UK mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion after 39 bod­ies found in lorry

The National - News - - FRONT PAGE - CLAIRE CORKERY Lon­don

Thirty-nine bod­ies were found in a lorry con­tainer on an in­dus­trial state 32 kilo­me­tres east of Lon­don yes­ter­day prompt­ing calls for more to be done to com­bat hu­man traf­fick­ing in the UK.

Bri­tish po­lice launched a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion after the dis­cov­ery of the con­tainer at the Water­glade In­dus­trial Park in Grays, Es­sex, in the early hours yes­ter­day. Emer­gency ser­vices were called out but all 39, in­clud­ing a teenager, in the con­tainer were pro­nounced dead at the scene.

The driver of the lorry, a 25-year-old man from North­ern Ire­land, has been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of mur­der. He has not been charged or iden­ti­fied.

Deputy Chief Con­sta­ble Pippa Mills of Es­sex Po­lice de­scribed the in­ci­dent as “an ab­so­lute tragedy and a very sad day for Es­sex Po­lice and the lo­cal com­mu­nity”.

She said that it could be a lengthy process to iden­tify the vic­tims and es­tab­lish where they had come from.

Es­sex Po­lice set up a “ca­su­alty bu­reau” with a phone line for peo­ple to call if they were

con­cerned about rel­a­tives, in an at­tempt to try to iden­tify the vic­tims.

Po­lice ini­tially said they be­lieved the lorry had come from Bul­garia, en­ter­ing the UK from Holy­head in Wales on Satur­day. Holy­head is one of the main ports for fer­ries from Ire­land.

But in a later up­date, po­lice said the in­for­ma­tion they had given was in­cor­rect and that the ve­hi­cle had trav­elled from Zee­brugge, Bel­gium on a ferry, ar­riv­ing into the port of Pur­fleet on the River Thames in eastern Eng­land.

It then docked in the Thur­rock area, near Grays, about 12.30am lo­cal time yes­ter­day for about 35 min­utes be­fore de­part­ing, Es­sex Po­lice said.

CCTV footage showed a lorry be­ing driven to­wards the in­dus­trial es­tate where it was found at 1.10am. Po­lice were called to the scene at 1.40am.

As re­porters and by­standers gath­ered at the scene of the dis­cov­ery, po­lice an­nounced that the lorry con­tainer with the bod­ies in­side would be moved to a se­cure lo­ca­tion in nearby Till­bury Docks.

Ms Mills said the move would mean that the bod­ies “can be re­cov­ered while pre­serv­ing the dig­nity of the vic­tims”.

UK Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son said he was ap­palled by the news and was be­ing kept up­dated by the po­lice.

“We know that this trade is go­ing on – all such traders in hu­man be­ings should be hunted down and brought to jus­tice,” he said.

While po­lice have not for­mally con­nected the in­ci­dent with hu­man traf­fick­ing, a link has been as­sumed by politi­cians be­cause of the way in which the bod­ies were dis­cov­ered.

The MP rep­re­sent­ing the con­stituency around Grays de­scribed the news as sick­en­ing on Twit­ter.

Jackie Doyle-Price told Par­lia­ment: “To put 39 peo­ple into a locked metal con­tainer shows a con­tempt for hu­man life that is evil. The best thing we can do in mem­ory of those vic­tims is to find the per­pe­tra­tors and bring them to jus­tice.”

Op­po­si­tion Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn said the deaths were an un­be­liev­able tragedy that needed an­swers.

“Can we just think for a mo­ment of what it must have been like for those 39 peo­ple, ob­vi­ously in a des­per­ate and dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, for their lives to end, suf­fo­cated to death in a con­tainer,” he said.

The Bul­gar­ian au­thor­i­ties con­firmed the lorry was reg­is­tered in the coun­try.

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

“Po­lice said that it is highly un­likely that they are Bul­gar­i­ans,” he said.

Po­lice said they be­lieved the trailer orig­i­nated in Ire­land.

Ire­land’s prime min­is­ter, Leo Varad­kar, told Ir­ish MPs that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be un­der­taken if it was es­tab­lished that the lorry had passed through the coun­try.

“I think ev­ery­one’s thoughts in this House this morn­ing are with those who are dead, those who have passed on and their fam­i­lies,” he said.

Zoe Smith, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ad­vo­cacy at the Medaille Trust, a char­ity that pro­vides refuge to vic­tims of mod­ern slav­ery, said they worked with clients who had been traf­ficked to the UK in sev­eral trans­port meth­ods.

“One client from China was smug­gled into the UK aged eight and all he can re­call of his jour­ney was be­ing in ‘a mov­ing room’ for two weeks,” Mrs Smith told The Na­tional.

“What that was is any­body’s guess. My guess is a ship­ping con­tainer, but we don’t know for sure.”

Yes­ter­day’s dis­cov­ery is the big­gest tragedy in­volv­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the UK for nearly 20 years.

In 2000, 60 Chi­nese im­mi­grants were found in the back of a lorry in Dover on the south­ern English coast. Fifty-eight of them suf­fo­cated to death, while two sur­vived.

The lorry driver, a Dutch citizen, was jailed for his part in a peo­ple-smug­gling op­er­a­tion.

A tragedy of that scale was not seen again in Europe un­til 2015 when 71 peo­ple were found dead in an aban­doned lorry on an Aus­trian mo­tor­way.

The bod­ies on board were those of men, women and chil­dren from Iraq, Syria and Afghanista­n. The ve­hi­cle was thought to have been part of a Bul­gar­ian-Hun­gar­ian peo­ple-smug­gling op­er­a­tion.

AFP; EPA

Top, po­lice work by a lorry, be­lieved to have orig­i­nated from Bul­garia, that con­tained 39 bod­ies. Above left, foren­sic of­fi­cers comb the area as col­leagues, right, sealed off the scene of the coun­try’s worst mi­grant tragedy in years

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