39 Found Dead In Truck Near London Were Chinese Nationals
LONDON — British police have searched properties in Northern Ireland hours after launching a major murder investigation into the discovery of 39 dead bodies inside a truck at an industrial park near London.
Officers raided two addresses late Wednesday in County Armagh, which are believed to be linked to the truck driver, a 25-year-old man from the UK-ruled province, according to multiple reports.
Investigators have said the man — named in the media as Mo Robinson from the Northern Irish town of Portadown — was arrested on suspicion of murder and remained in custody on Thursday.
The dozens of corpses were found in the early hours of Wednesday in a refrigerated truck container at an industrial park in Grays, east of London, triggering shock and outrage in Britain.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described it as “unimaginable tragedy”.
With the help of immigration officials, the local Essex Police force is leading the biggest murder probe in Britain since the 2005 terrorist attacks in London that killed 52 victims.
Deputy chief constable Pippa Mills told reporters Wednesday the first priority was identifying the victims, thought to be 38 adults and one teenager.
“It’s absolutely imperative that the operation is conducted with the utmost respect for the 39 people who’ve lost their lives,” she said, adding it would be “a lengthy inquiry”.
Forensic investigators could be seen working by the truck throughout Wednesday.
It was later moved to a “secure location” nearby, “so the bodies can be recovered whilst preserving the dignity of the victims,” Mills said.
Essex Police said the container section of the vehicle came by ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge into Purfleet, close to Grays on the River Thames estuary — a crossing that takes nine to 12 hours.
The force added the vessel docked there at around 12:30 a.m. (2330 GMT) Wednesday and the truck left the port area around half an hour later.
Emergency services were then called to the the Waterglade Industrial Park at around 1:40am.
Investigators in Belgium have launched their own probe and confirmed Thursday that the container had passed through Zeebrugge, one of the world’s biggest and busiest ports.
“According to the first stages of the investigation, the container passed through Zeebrugge on Tuesday,” Eric van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor, said.
Police in Britain have said they believe the “tractor unit of the lorry”, which drives the vehicle, originated in Northern Ireland.
It had license plates issued in Bulgaria after it was registered there in 2017 by an Irish citizen, according to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
He said the vehicle had not entered Bulgarian territory since then and there was “no connection with us”.
The grim discovery has drawn attention to the shadowy people trafficking business and efforts to stem the illegal flow of migrants to Britain.
Later on Wednesday police in Kent, a county in southeast England, said they had discovered nine people stowed away in the back of another lorry, after stopping the vehicle on the London-bound side of the M20 motorway.
“Nine people were checked as a precaution by the South East Coast Ambulance Service before they were passed to Home Office immigration officers,” a spokesman for Kent Police said.
Britain’s National Crime Agency said the number of migrants being smuggled into the UK in containers and trucks had risen in the last year.
In May the NCA warned there had been “increasing use of higher risk methods of clandestine entry” to Britain by organized immigration crime gangs.
The latest deaths drew comparisons to previous cases in Britain.
In 2000, the bodies of 58 clandestine Chinese immigrants were discovered in a Dutch truck at the southeastern English port of Dover. Two people survived.
Meanwhile in 2014, around 34 Afghan Sikhs were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury port — next to Grays — suffering from severe dehydration, hypothermia and lack of air. One man died during the sea crossing from Belgium. — AFP
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