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Police begin process of identifying 39 people found dead in trailer in Essex

UK News | Published:

A 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland was arrested following the grim discovery.

Police have begun the process of trying to identify 39 bodies found in a lorry on an industrial estate in Essex.

Detectives now say the refrigerated trailer containing the victims arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday while the front section known as the tractor came from Northern Ireland.

The vehicle driver, named in reports as 25-year-old Mo Robinson from Portadown in Co Armagh, Northern Ireland, is being held by Essex police on suspicion of murder.

Several pictures on his Facebook profile match those of the vehicle at the centre of the investigation in Grays.

Police officers in Northern Ireland undertook two search operations in Co Armagh on Wednesday night linked to the investigation.

There was no answer at the Co Armagh home of Mr Robinson’s family.

Bodies found in container lorry: key locations
(PA Graphics)

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She said they were being moved to nearby Tilbury Docks so the bodies can be recovered while preserving the dignity of the victims.

“We are yet to identify them and must manage this sensitively with their families,” she added.

The Prime Minister said the perpetrators of the crime “should be hunted down”, while local MP Jackie Doyle-Price said the people smugglers responsible must be caught.

She told the House of Commons: “To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil.

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“The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

Bodies found in lorry container
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Bulgarian ministry of foreign affairs said the truck was registered in Varna in Bulgaria “under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen”.

Police originally thought the lorry had travelled to the UK through Holyhead in north Wales on October 19 but later revealed that the trailer had come directly from the Continent.

A freight ferry service runs from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.

The discovery comes as the National Crime Agency said the number of migrants being smuggled into the UK in containers and lorries has risen in the last year.

Bodies found in lorry container
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills speaks to the media (Victoria Jones/PA)

He told the PA news agency temperatures in refrigerated units can be as low as minus 25C and described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel described it as “a truly shocking incident”, and added: “This could be wider than the UK, wider than Europe, that is obviously now a matter for the police and their investigation.

The discovery is not the worst of its kind in the UK.

The bodies of 58 Chinese people were found in a container at Dover, Kent, in 2000.

Seven men were jailed by a Dutch court for their role in the human-smuggling operation that led to the young people suffocating and the Dutch lorry driver was jailed for 14 years.

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