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More arrests; driver in custody

Ellis Whitehouse, (Basildon, England) Echo
Published 9:12 a.m. ET Oct. 25, 2019 | Updated 2:16 p.m. ET Oct. 25, 2019

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Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria.
USA TODAY

BASILDON, England – Police arrested three additional people Friday in connection with the investigation into 39 bodies discovered in the back of a truck outside London.

Two raids were carried out in Cheshire, and a man and woman, both 38 and from Warrington, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter.

A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was later arrested at Stansted Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter, Essex Police deputy chief constable Pippa Mills said.

Truck driver Mo Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland – also remains in custody on suspicion of murder but has not been charged, and police were granted an extra 24 hours to question him.

The bodies of 39 people, initially believed to be Chinese nationals, were found Wednesday in a refrigerated truck trailer at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, which is about 20 miles east of London, police say.

However, the Vietnamese Embassy in London confirmed Friday that it contacted police about a missing woman feared to be one of the dead.

Mills addressed speculation about the victims’ nationalities, saying, “We gave an initial steer on Thursday on nationality however this is now a developing picture.”

Chinese officials told reporters in Beijing that the nationalities and identities of the victims had not yet been confirmed and said they were working in cooperation with local authorities.

A Vietnamese family also contacted the country’s embassy in London as their daughter had been missing since the truck was found. The family spoke with the BBC and said they hadn’t received any additional messages from the woman after she texted them Tuesday that she was suffocating.

The family, who said they paid for their daughter to be smuggled into the United Kingdom, is one of possibly six Vietnamese families that fear a relative is among the dead, the BBC reported.

Mills also called on families who fear their loved ones are dead to speak with police.

“I can’t begin to comprehend what some of you must be going through right now. You have my assurance that Essex Police will be working tirelessly to understand the whole picture to this absolute tragedy,” Mills said.

The arrests come as police began moving the victims from the Port of Tilbury to a hospital in Chelmsford, where the first post-mortem examinations will begin Friday. Mills said police have closed the scene at the industrial park.

Investigators are still looking to determine a cause of death for the eight women and 31 men found dead in the truck.

“Formal identification will then follow the coronial process and will be a lengthy but crucial part of this investigation,” Essex police said in a statement.

Authorities in multiple countries have been working together to track the circuitous routes that the truck cab and its trailer took to end up in the industrial site.

Police said Thursday they believe the truck cab, which is registered in Bulgaria and owned by an Irish company, came from Northern Ireland, through Ireland, over to Wales and ended up in England. The container where the bodies were found is believed to have traveled to the United Kingdom from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

Global Trailer Rentals Ltd. told Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE the trailer it owns was leased Oct. 15 in County Monaghan, in Ireland, at a rate of $299 per week. The Dublin-based company said it will make the data from its tracking system available to investigators.

The grim incident had similarities to a 2000 case where 58 Chinese migrants suffocated in a truck in Dover, England, after a journey from China’s southern Fujian province. The bodies were found in a cargo truck carrying tomatoes after a ferry ride from Zeebrugge, the same port in the current case. 

In 2015, 71 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were found dead in a truck in Austria.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that people responsible would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Britain remains a destination for immigrants from all countries, even as the U.K. rethinks its immigration rules as it prepares to leave the 28-nation European Union.

A National Crime Agency assessment report on serious and organized crime last year said there was a “greater focus” on rising smuggler numbers in Belgium after the closure of the Dunkirk migrant camp in 2017.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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