A lorry driver accused over the deaths of 39 migrants told a court he was watching Netflix in bed as people were allegedly being loaded into his lorry trailer.
23-year-old Eamonn Harrison dropped off the trailer containing Vietnamese migrants at a Belgian port in Zeebrugge on 22 October.
The next day, they were found dead in Grays, Essex.
The 39 victims – aged 15 to 44 – had suffocated in the airtight trailer as it made its way to the English port.
Mr Harrison denies manslaughter and involvement in a wider human trafficking operation.
Another driver, 26-year-old Maurice Robinson, picked up the trailer at the Essex port and found all 39 victims dead.
Mr Harrison told the Old Bailey that he had agreed to deal with “stolen goods” because he owed his boss, Ronan Hughes, following a drink-drive accident in one of the 41-year-old’s trucks.
At first he expected a large quantity of Coca-Cola, but after speaking to Hughes found out that “there would be no load of Coca-Cola but there would be a load of stolen goods”.
Mr Harrison said he waited around 30 minutes for a Romanian man to arrive.
The individual, whom he knew as Alex, did not turn up but another Eastern European man was there instead, he told the court.
Harrison said: “He clearly knew the lorry, what it was there for.
“He goes to me, ‘are you OK?’. I said yes. He was telling me where he wanted me to go. His English was not really the best.”
Harrison said the man told him to “close the curtains” and “lie down” once he had moved his lorry.
The defendant said he listened, and watched “a wee bit of Netflix” in bed.
Harrison told jurors: “I got a bang on the door. He gives me a thumbs up and I move off. That’s what I did. It was fairly quick, five minutes.”
After dropping off the trailer in Zeebrugge, Harrison went on to the Netherlands, jurors heard.
After failed attempts at trying to reach him overnight, Harrison’s boss Hughes managed to get through to him at 8:22am and asked if he had heard from Robinson after he had passed on to him.
Harrison recounts that Hughes “sounded panicking a wee bit” – and that he only started to hear the news from friends on WhatsApp and Snapchat.
The defendant said he felt “shocked” but was struggling to comprehend what happened, so he left to pick up tiles – “business as usual”.
He told the court he was “more panicked than anything” and “did not know what was going on”.
It was only after he set out to meet his parents in Dublin – travelling from Cherbourg by boat – that the severity of the situation dawned on him.
He said: “Obviously lots of people are ringing me (saying), ‘what’s going on’?
“You know, my mum and dad are starting to realise there is something more to this.
“Friends are telling me ‘when you come in you are going to have to go straight to the police’.”
It was only then that “reality started to hit me”, he said.
“It’s not good. That’s the trailer that I shipped. I was the last man that could have done something,” Harrison told jurors.
Harrison did not have the opportunity to meet his parents as he was arrested as soon as he got off the boat.
Alisdair Williamson QC, defending, said: “Did you have any idea what you were getting involved with?”
Harrison said: “No, I did not.”
Mr Williamson said: “Mr Harrison, did you in order to work off your debt to Mr Hughes agree to human beings to be put in the back of your trailer?”
Harrison replied: “No I did not.”
When being cross-examined by Bill Emlyn Jones, he said he did not know there were people in the lorry as he “did not shut the door”.
Harrison said: “I knew from the news, from the evidence, that there were people in that trailer…
“I did not shut the door. I did not know they were there.”
Harrison, of Co Down, denies the manslaughter of 39 migrants and being involved in a wider people-smuggling operation.
Robinson and Hughes have previously admitted their involvement in the migrants’ deaths.
The trial continues.