39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Revealed: 39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles and may have been locked in airless, freezing trailer for DAYS

  • Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, held on suspicion of murdering 39 Chinese nationals frozen inside lorry in Essex  
  • Police have raided his Armagh home – and the home he shared with his parents – who have flown to England 
  • Robinson travelled by ferry from Dublin to Holyhead on Saturday and was waiting for the container yesterday  
  • He moved lorry to a nearby industrial estate to check his paperwork and found the 31 men and 8 women dead
  • Friend told MailOnline: ‘Mo is from the nicest family – he wouldn’t have known those people were in the back’
  • Police in Belgium say container arrived at Zeebrugge on Tuesday before ferry to Purfleet, Essex, hours later 
  • Bodies are being moved from Tilbury docks to the mortuary in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations
  • Do you know Mo Robinson? Call 02036151866 or email martin.robinson@mailonline.co.uk or tips@dailymail.com 

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The 39 Chinese migrants who were found dead in the back of a lorry had travelled 5,000 miles and could have been locked in the freezing trailer for days. 

It is thought that migrants were frozen, or had died of suffocation while being trapped in the metal container.

Belgium officials have since said that the migrants had been sealed in the dark trailer by time it reached Zeerugge at 2.49pm local time on Tuesday – meaning they could have been trapped for days. 

Driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson is said to have fainted when he opened the door and saw their dead bodies on Wednesday and police have now been granted an extra 24 hours to question him.

The 25-year-old, remains in custody at an Essex police station as detectives grill him on whether he knew the 31 men and eight women were in the back. 

Tonight police have moved 11 of the 39 bodies to a local hospital, as investigations continue.

They had been kept inside the refrigerated container, which had a stop-start timer, specifically designed to conserve energy. 

Its instruction manual stated that this could go on and off at any time. 

A convoy of private ambulances was needed in order to collect the 39 dead migrants which were discovered in the container 

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles 39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police have been given an extra 24 hours to to question Mo Robinson (left and right) after he was arrested on suspicion of murder

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The map above shows the perilous 5,000 mile journey the 39 migrants would have taken to get to the UK 

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police officers are briefed as they shelter from the rain, today, as they seal off the the scene where bodies were discovered in a lorry container, in Grays, Essex

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police carry out finger-searches of the area in Grays, Essex, where the lorry containing 39 dead Chinese immigrants – 31 men and eight women – was found yesterday 

The bodies are being taken to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford and have been escorted by police.  

This is while a friend of the Northern Irishman has told MailOnline that Robinson pulled over near Purfleet docks in Essex to grab paperwork from the refrigeration unit only to find dozens of frozen bodies in the rear.

A witness told the Evening Standard that he then ‘passed out’ after dialling 999 for an ambulance at 1.40am yesterday morning.

This is while the registered owner of the truck, tonight revealed that her and her husband sold it to a company in Northern Ireland more than a year ago.

Police are probing whether the immigrants were moved into the UK by a Northern Ireland-based people smuggling ring as three properties across the province were raided overnight, including Robinson’s own home.

An Essex Police spokesman said: ‘Detectives investigating the murder of 39 people in Grays have secured a warrant of further detention from local magistrates at Basildon for a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland.

‘The man, a lorry driver, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and will now remain in custody for up to an additional 24 hours.’    

The stowaways – 31 men and eight women including a young adult woman – had travelled from China to the UK and slowly froze to death in ‘absolutely horrendous’ conditions after they tried to reach Britain on a cargo ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium. 

Police are probing whether the victims were being trafficked by criminal gangs operating in the UK who sell them as slaves to work in nail bars, brothels, massage parlours and restaurants. 

Speaking to MailOnline today, the woman who had been named as the owner of the truck claim they sold it to a company in County Moneghan, close to where truck driver Mo Robinson, 25, lives.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police have raided a property in the Laurelvale area of Co Armagh in Northern Ireland after a murder investigation was launched, believed to belong to the lorry driver’s parents

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Officers were also seen outside this property in the Markethill area (above), believed to be where Mo Robinson lives, as they continue to investigate the 39 deaths

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The 39 desperate stowaway migrants were locked up in the trailer (above). It is unclear how long they had been in there for but it is believed to be at least 15 hours

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Photos show the inside of the -25C refrigerated trailer where 39 people were found dead in the early hours of Wednesday morning

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

A lorry at Tilbury docks today, where the bodies were moved to by police after being discovered yesterday

Joanna Maher, 38, from Warrington, was named as the keeper of the Scania truck that was registered in the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Varna in 2018. 

She said: ‘We did own it but sold it 13 months ago. ‘It’s the cab – my name was down as owning it.’ 

Mr Maher said he sold it on 3 October last year. He said the couple owned it for just a year.

Thomas said: ‘It’s disgusting what’s happened.

‘I went to the British police as we were registered owners in Bulgaria. I phoned them myself.

‘They were happy we had come forward. They are well aware of who they are dealing with in southern Ireland.

‘It’s not nice to be associated with this.

We’re shocked.’

How people-smuggling gangs use refrigerated lorries to hide their human cargo from port officials’ thermal cameras… to tragic ends 

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Scanners used to detect stowaways in lorries but sources claim they don’t work as well on refrigerated units.

This is image was taken at Dover, showing migrants sitting on top of boxes inside a traditional container

A refrigerated container was used to smuggle 39 Chinese nationals into the UK because it evaded detection by thermal imaging equipment, security staff at the port where it entered Britain have claimed.

The container arrived at Purfleet port, Essex, on the River Thames from Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Security personnel at both ports are equipped with thermal cameras which are used to try and detect stowaways. These are used for traditional containers but not refrigerated ones.

One security official, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Thermal imaging equipment doesn’t work on refrigerated containers. They are simply too cold, and you can’t pick up any heat that might be coming from somebody hidden inside.

‘The smuggling gang must have known this, it just goes to show how clever they are.

They are constantly looking for loopholes and sadly, it’s ended up with all these people losing their lives.’

It came as locals in Purfleet and Thurrock also told MailOnline they had often seen groups of migrants close to where 39 Chinese people were found dead in a lorry yesterday.  

The couple have three children – two boys aged 18 and 11, and a 15-year-old girl.

They own two Grey Range Rovers – one with a personalised number plate – and a white Chevrolet sports car.

They bought their detached modern GBP250,000 home in Warrington, Cheshire two years ago.

Mrs Maher registered the vehicle for at a run down 10-storey building in the seaside resort of Varna.

The lorry which carried the refrigerated unit holding 39 bodies was registered last year and left the next day, having never been back to Bulgaria.

Murder detectives in Essex are still interviewing lorry driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, whose home in Markethill, Co Armagh, was raided last night before a team entered the nearby home he used to share with his parents, who have flown to England overnight to support their son. A third property in Armagh City was also searched this morning.

Police are focussing on whether Robinson knew he was picking up dozens of immigrants from Purfleet docks on Tuesday night amid claims his HGV’s -25c chiller unit, usually carrying biscuits and mushrooms from Ireland, was switched on. 

The migrants were huddled inside the super-chilled sound-proofed container for at least 15 hours by the time the door was opened by Mr Robinson, who called an ambulance from an industrial estate in Thurrock, Essex, at 1.40am yesterday. 

A friend of the murder suspect told MailOnline today: ‘Mo is from the nicest family you could meet. I’m telling you now, he wouldn’t have known those people were in the back.

‘Apparently he’d parked up at the industrial estate in Essex and had gone to fetch the paperwork from a pocket on the inside of the lorry door.

When he opened the container up and saw all the dead bodies, he was absolutely horrified – as anyone would be – and called the ambulance service who in turn alerted the police. I heard the container was refrigerated – the temperature was -25C and the bodies were frozen and had been dead for some time.’ 

Supporters have set up a ‘JusticeforMo’ group, claiming he is being unfairly treated by police. A petition calling for his release has reached 5,000.

As police in Britain launched its biggest murder investigation since 7/7, this is what is known about the horrifying case:  

  • The 39 immigrants found frozen to death were all from China – 31 men and eight women – with police probing if they were being trafficked into the UK to work for criminal gangs;
  • Police are starting to move their bodies from Tilbury docks to the mortuary in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations;
  • Devon and Cornwall police chief Shaun Sawyer, the National Police Chiefs Council lead, says criminals see the UK as an ‘easy target’ because we are a rich and ‘welcoming country’;
  • The victims from 5,000 miles away probably travelled to Zeebrugge, Belgium, through Holland and perhaps via Varna, Bulgaria, before sailing to Purfleet, Essex, arriving at 12.30am on Wednesday morning. 
  • Lorry driver ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, dialled 999 30 minutes after pick-up having gone to get his cargo paperwork and finding 39 dead bodies piled up inside, a close friend has claimed; 
  • Police have raided three properties in Northern Ireland, including the one he shares with his partner, who is expecting twins

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Robinson arrived in the UK at the weekend after a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead.

He picked up the trailer, which had been shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet, yesterday morning. Minutes later, he pulled into the Essex industrial estate and the alarm was raised

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Two houses have been raided by police in Northern Ireland – one belonging to the lorry driver in Markethill and the other belonging to his parents in Laurelvale, both Co Armagh. A third house in Armagh City has also been raided

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Final journey: How the 39 tragic migrants ended up in Purfleet, Essex, dead in the back of a refrigerated biscuit lorry

Group of east African children found in Belfast last week ‘had travelled to Northern Ireland in a shipping container with up to 50 other people’, they tell police

Police are investigating the discovery of several groups of African children being smuggled into Belfast.

The children, thought to be from the northeast African country of Eritrea are believed to have arrived in the UK in a shipping container with up to 50 people.

It comes as 39 migrants were found dead in a shipping container in Essex on Wednesday.

Police are now liaising with health trusts in order to understand the circumstances as to how the children had made it various locations in Belfast.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Map shows Eritrea in relation to Belfast and Essex 

The children were discovered in different locations, with the first being found on August 2.

Among the incidents, it is understood that six were discovered in the harbour area of the city in the second week of October while three others presented themselves to the authorities the following week.

According to both police and health sources, some of those latter three children claimed they had arrived in the city in a shipping container containing ‘up to 50 people’.

While police are working to establish whether those claims can be substantiated, it is understood officers have yet to find ‘hard evidence’ to verify the accounts.  

The Essex lorry disaster is the biggest tragedy of its kind since 2000, when 58 Chinese stowaways died on a ferry from Belgium to Britain. 

Detectives are now looking into an Irish people smuggling ring which has links to the Bulgarian city of Varna, where the truck is registered to, and may have been moving human cargo from China between Zeebrugge and the Essex port of Purfleet due to increased security at Dover and Calais. 

Varna, a port on the Black Sea, is ideal for traffickers because it has ferry links to Asia via Turkey, Georgia and Russia.

Shaun Sawyer, the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police and the National Police Chiefs Council lead for modern slavery and human trafficking, admitted today that people smuggling gangs see the UK as an ‘easy target’ to lure migrants. 

He told the BBC: ‘One can go back to 2000 when 58 Chinese nationals were found dead in Dover – there’s a real timeline of the misery here. 

‘The attraction of the UK which, whether we accept it or not, is hugely economically wealthy. It has human rights.

It’s perceived though, by organised crime, as a potential easy target to inculcate and be purveyors of hope and then treating despair and misery which can lead to loss of life. 

‘The reality is that it’s incumbent on all of us to realise that there is the right and obligation for the UK to defend its borders. 

‘We reach out as a country on a global stage but we must protect our borders from infiltration.

‘We want to be a welcoming country. There are routes but unfortunately the smugglers and human traffickers will exploit the doubt, exploit the push factors in country and bring people here at risk to their life’.   

Specialist teams are conducting fingertip searches of the road leading into the Waterglade Industrial Park in Thurrock, Essex.

A dozen officers in black uniforms and gloves have been seen on their hands and knees today scouring the area near where the lorry had been parked.

Police have extended their search site, putting up a cordon next to the green barriers already in place as they hunt for clues.

A strong police presence remains at the industrial estate, with several cars parked there and uniformed officers manning the cordon.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police officers detain a group of migrants near the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry that had travelled from the port

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Mayor of Thurrock Terry Piccolo, Superintendent Craig Saunders and Chief Inspector Claire Talbot (left to right) sign the Book of Condolence opened in the Council Chamber of Thurrock Council in Grays today

Flowers for the victims were also left at the cordon.

Horrified driver raised the alarm when he opened lorry’s rear door and found the 39 dead bodies, says his friend

The lorry driver arrested over the deaths of 39 people in the back of his container was the one who alerted emergency services, a friend has told MailOnline.

The man, who asked not to be named, said: ‘Mo is from the nicest family you could meet. I’m telling you now, he wouldn’t have known those people were in the back.

‘Apparently he’d parked up at the industrial estate in Essex and had gone to fetch the paperwork from a pocket on the inside of the lorry door.

‘When he opened the container up and saw all the dead bodies, he was absolutely horrified – as anyone would be – and called the ambulance service who in turn alerted the police.

‘Mo’s been a driver since he was 21-years-old and is a decent fella who wouldn’t have been involved in anything criminal like this. 

‘I heard the container was refrigerated – the temperature was -25 degrees and the bodies were frozen and had been dead for some time.’

Experts yesterday said the temperature inside the refrigerated trailer unit, which is said to usually carry biscuits, might have been as low as -25C (-13F) when they perished. In reality, they could have been inside their metal coffin for much longer.

Although paramedics reached the scene minutes after being called out, all they found was a pile of bodies.

Mo Robinson, who is expecting twins with his partner, called his lorry ‘the Polar Express’, having started working for himself around a year ago after leaving a larger haulier firm in Northern Ireland.

CCTV shows Robinson’s truck driving into the industrial estate in Essex at 1.10am on Wednesday and police arrived around half an hour later. Neither the nationality of the victims, nor the origin of the container is currently known.

The truck was removed from the scene yesterday afternoon, with the 39 victims still believed to be inside, as police begin the process of identifying them. 

Investigations are ongoing and the latest pictures showed two properties in Northern Ireland being raided by police.  A third was searched this afternoon.

While several officers raided a property in Laurelvale, others were also seen outside a property in the Markethill area, where a van had been parked outside.

Other shots show the officers entering one of the properties and going inside.

In a statement Essex Police said there were eight women and 31 men among the 39 people found dead in a lorry trailer in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles 39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Robinson was pictured posing in front of a truck wearing a cowboy hat and a drink in hand (left), and also previously larking with police (right)

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The container was carried into the UK via Zeebrugge in Belgium, pictured today, where a group of migrants were arrested this morning. The lorry on the left was passing, not involved 

The force, which said the case is the largest murder investigation in its history, said officers believe they are all Chinese nationals.

Owner of 275 euro a week fridge container were ‘unaware’ it was being used for trafficking

A spokesman for Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) has confirmed to RTE News that it owns the refrigerated trailer in which the 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in Essex on Wednesday.

The spokesman said the trailer was leased on October 15 from Global Trailer Rentals’ yard in Co Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland, at a rate of 275 euro per week.

The company also said it had contacted the incident team at Essex Police and given them information about the person and company that leased the trailer.

According to RTE News, GTR said it will make the data from its tracking system available to investigating police.

The company’s directors told Ireland’s national broadcaster they are ‘shellshocked’ at the news and ‘gutted’ that one of their trailers had been used in such a way.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, GTR said it was ‘entirely unaware that the trailer was to be used in the manner in which it appears to have been’.

It says the company contacted Essex Police on Wednesday ‘immediately upon becoming aware that a trailer on lease from this company had been involved in this incident’.

A statement said: ‘Of these, 38 are believed to be adults, and one is a young adult woman. We previously reported that she may have been a teenager.

We have since confirmed that eight of the deceased are women and 31 are men and all are believed to be Chinese nationals. We arrested a man on suspicion of murder, who remains in custody.

‘We want to be clear – we have not speculated about the identity of this man, and we will not do so. We can confirm that three properties in County Armagh have been searched in connection with our investigation.

‘The lorry has since been removed from the industrial park to allow the next stage of our investigative process to be conducted in peace, and to give the utmost dignity to those within the trailer as we prepare for a coroner’s post-mortem examination.

‘Each of the 39 people must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish a cause of death, before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer.

This will be a substantial operation and, at this stage, we cannot estimate how long these procedures will take.’

The force confirmed details about the movements of the lorry’s tractor, the front part including the driver’s cab.

The statement said: ‘Our lines of enquiry are extensive and will be thorough. This means that we might not have all the answers straight away. We do have some key facts, which are:

‘The tractor unit of the lorry had entered the country via Holyhead on Sunday 20 October, having travelled over from Dublin.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police officers bowed their heads as the truck passed. Detectives have begun the process of trying to identify 39 bodies found in a lorry on an industrial estate in Essex

‘The lorry then collected the trailer, which had travelled from Zeebrugge, at the port of Purfleet at around 12.30am on the 23 October.

The cab and trailer left the port shortly after 1.05am.

‘We were called to Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue shortly before 1.40am on Wednesday 23 October by our colleagues in the East of England Ambulance Service to reports that 39 people had been found dead in the trailer of a lorry.’   

Were the 39 Chinese nationals frozen to death being trafficked by criminals to work in brothels and restaurants?

The Essex lorry disaster is the biggest tragedy of its kind since 2000 when 58 Chinese stowaways died on a ferry from Belgium to Britain. 

Again, on the same route into Britain, 39 Chinese people have died, it was revealed today.

In the past 20 years have there has been a ‘conveyor’ network bringing in Chinese nationals into the UK in the back of lorries.

Many are sold as slaves to work in the sex industry, restaurants and other businesses, refugee groups claim.

In 2017 a bulldog breeder and show judge who made more then GBP100,000 by luring Asian woman to Britain to work in a prostitution network was jailed for four years.

Hong Chin, 45, had 18 sex workers from China and Malaysia staying in budget hotels around Gatwick Airport and the south east and south west of England.

Chin began his ‘shameful’ double life as a pimp while he managed Royal Esher Bulldogs on a country estate in Surrey and adjudicated on dog shows including the London Bulldog Society Open Show in June 2015.

The human trafficker advertised sex workers for up to GBP100-an-hour on ‘adultwork.com’ and used the profits to send his daughter to a top private school.

In June 2000 the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found in the back of a truck at the English port of Dover. Two people survived.

A year later a Dutch truck driver was sentenced to 14 years in jail for their manslaughter after he closed the only air vent and they suffocated to death,

In 2004 At least 21 Chinese workers kept prisoner by evil gangmasters were drowned off the coast of Lancashire, when they were trapped by the incoming tide after picking cockles.

In March, 2006, a man originally from China was found guilty of manslaughter by a British court. He and his Chinese girlfriend and cousin were also convicted of helping those who died to break immigration laws, according to the BBC. 

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 lorry and trailer left the port shortly after 1.05am and officers were called around 30 minutes later after ambulance staff made the grim discovery at Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue in nearby Grays.

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.

Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: ‘This morning I met officers from Essex Police to express my thanks for their response to the tragic incident in Grays & receive an update on the investigation.

I stand behind them as they continue their work to establish how this horrific event came to happen.’

The deaths follow warnings from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Border Force of the increased risk of people-smuggling via Belgium and into quieter ports such as Purfleet.

The NCA previously said it had a ‘greater focus’ on rising smuggler numbers in Belgium after the closure of a migrant camp, and a Border Force assessment highlighted Zeebrugge as being among ‘key ports of embarkation for clandestine arrivals’.

The NCA has also warned that criminal networks are suspected to have started targeting quieter ports on the east and south coasts of the UK as well as the main Channel crossing between Calais and Dover.

Councillor Paul Berry said today the village of Laurelvale, where the Robinson family live, was in ‘complete shock’.

Mr Berry, who has been in contact with Mr Robinson’s father several times, said he learned of his son’s arrest through social media.

‘He had said he had been getting messages via people on social media on what was happening and at that stage it was not confirmed to him or his family that his son had been arrested,’ said the DUP representative.

‘In the local area the feeling is one of complete shock and hope this is not a true story in terms of his involvement.’

Mr Berry, who knows the father well, said the family were ‘very well respected’ in the area.

‘The local community is hoping that he (Mo Robinson) has been caught up innocently in this matter but that’s in the hands of Essex Police, and we will leave it in their professional hands to try to catch the perpetrators of this.’

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police officers were shown to be lined up next to the lorry today and bowed their head in respect for those who had died in the tragedy 

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

A border force lorry arrived at the Port of Tilbury in Essex last night where the lorry that 39 bodies were found inside has been moved to

He said the family had been left upset by the ‘unwelcome spotlight’ the incident had shone on them.

‘It was very distressing for the family as they just felt they were captive in their own home,’ he said.

Police chief: Traffickers see the UK as an ‘easy target’ because of its ‘permeable borders’

Shaun Sawyer, the national spokesman for British police on human trafficking, said many thousands of people were seeking to come to the United Kingdom. While they were able to rescue many of those smuggled into the country, Britain was perceived by organised crime as a potentially easy target for traffickers.

‘You can’t turn the United Kingdom into a fortress. We have to accept that we have permeable borders,  

He said the incident is a tragedy that law enforcement, NGOs, the church and faith groups are working ‘every single moment of every single day’ to prevent.

‘So how many have we prevented?

How many lives that we saved? Turn it on its head.

‘It will be hundreds and thousands. But sadly, tragically, for 39 people that didn’t work yesterday,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

Essex police began a murder inquiry yesterday as they attempted to establish who the migrants were and which country they had travelled from.

Like thousands of others before them, the group are thought to have sneaked inside the container at the busy Belgian shipping port of Zeebrugge, where row after row of rectangular metal containers are lined up ready to be transported to the UK.

Police are trying to establish when the group got inside and if smugglers found the container for them and then locked the door behind them.

The container was placed on a cargo ship on Tuesday, which then set sail around 2pm.

The choppy Channel crossing took around ten hours before the ship docked at the Essex port of Purfleet on the Thames at 12.30am yesterday.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said those inside would have frozen to death in horrendous conditions if the refrigeration had been switched on.

‘It’s going to be dark and if the fridge is running it’s going to be incredibly cold,’ he said.

‘The only place to go to the toilet is inside the container. You can imagine if they’ve been in there for days it would be pretty grim.’

On Tuesday night trucker Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, was waiting inside his purple lorry cab at Purfleet docks for the container to be unloaded from the ship.

The self-employed haulier, who lives in the Northern Irish village of Laurelvale in County Armagh, drove out of the port 35 minutes later with it attached to his lorry.

He drove his Scania truck one mile to an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, where he arrived at 1.10am yesterday.

CCTV footage has emerged of the lorry driving towards the Waterglade Industrial Park minutes before the shocking discovery inside the container.

Were warnings ignored? Police told ministers three years ago about Purfleet risks 

 by Mario Ledwith for the Daily Mail

Ministers were warned three years ago about the port where 39 bodies were found in a lorry yesterday.

The National Crime Agency said people-smugglers were switching to Purfleet because it was ‘less busy’ than other UK entry points.

The bodies were found in a refrigerated shipping container that came through the Essex port.

It was picked up by a lorry and was parked on an industrial estate when police and paramedics arrived in the early hours to find a scene of horror. 

Police and the NCA have started a massive hunt for the people smugglers behind the tragedy.

Robinson, 25, from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, was being questioned by officers. 

The incident raises questions about border checks and whether the authorities have done enough to tackle trafficking gangs. The NCA had warned in 2016 that smugglers were turning their attention to ‘less busy’ ports in Britain. Its report even named Purfleet as a target.

It said gangs were being ‘displaced’ from northern France because of tighter security there.

This May the NCA warned that Belgian ports such as Zeebrugge were becoming people-smuggling hotspots.

An earlier report from the Border Force also said Zeebrugge was a key concern.

Tim Loughton, a Tory MP who sits on the Commons home affairs committee, said: ‘We need the authorities in Britain and Belgium to urgently step up security measures to ensure that people traffickers are not going to profit from human misery. This is a human tragedy on a massive scale which raises serious questions about how human trafficking may have moved north from France.’ 

An ambulance control room then received a 999 call informing them of the bodies in the container. Last night police would not reveal if this call was made by Mr Robinson.

The East of England Ambulance Service were the first to arrive. Five ambulances, hazardous area response teams and a car from the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance were all dispatched. Essex Police were then called.

Minutes later, they arrested Mr Robinson on suspicion of murder.

He remained in police custody last night. Officers are trying to establish if he knew whether the migrants were inside.

The container was removed from the scene yesterday afternoon, with the 39 victims still inside. As it was driven away to a secure location with a police escort, other officers bowed their heads.

Last night Mr Robinson’s shaken brother said the family had not heard from him and ‘don’t know what is going on’.

Mr Robinson is understood to have left the GBP300,000 home he shares with his pregnant girlfriend – who is said to be expecting twins – on Saturday morning.

He is thought to have driven his lorry cab to Dublin where he drove on to a ferry bound for Holyhead in Wales. Police yesterday confirmed that his lorry arrived on the mainland on Saturday.

It is not known what Mr Robinson did on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before picking up the container at Purfleet in the early hours of yesterday but at some point he drove the 300 miles to Essex before collecting the container.

His lorry cab is adorned with Celtic harps and the world ‘Ireland’ on the windscreen. Beneath it the phrase ‘the ultimate dream’ has been attached, with a dream catcher hanging inside the cab.

He regularly writes messages on Facebook and Instagram about his truck, referring to it as ‘the Scandinavian Express’ and ‘the Polar Express’.

He is thought to rent it, rather than own it.

The lorry carries Bulgarian number plates and is a left-hand drive.

Bulgarian public broadcaster BNR said the lorry was registered in that country on June 19, 2017, by an unnamed Irish woman. It left the Balkan country the next day and has not returned since, according to the Bulgarian authorities.

The deaths will lead to renewed calls for added checks on vehicles entering Britain through so-called ‘soft spot’ ports, with Border Force resources currently focused on Dover. 

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Forensic officers (pictured above) were pictured doing a full sweep of the vehicle after the discovery was made in Essex

Hauliers who exploit the Bulgaria connection 

By Mario Ledwith for the Daily Mail 

Haulage operators in the UK and Ireland are setting up their companies in Bulgaria to take advantage of tax breaks.

It was initially feared that the lorry involved in yesterday’s tragedy had travelled from the eastern European country.

But Bulgaria’s prime minister Boyko Borissov yesterday insisted it had simply been registered in the country by an Irish woman in 2017 and had not returned since then.

The practice of setting up haulage companies in Bulgaria has become increasingly popular, with legal firms and online message boards filled with advice about how to do so.

EU rules allow British and Irish firms to register there while operating across the bloc, with companies attracted by the country’s 10 per cent corporation tax.

Haulage firms can also take advantage of a quick registration process with low administration fees, while costs to run a company are significantly cheaper.

New companies require a Bulgarian-registered haulage manager to oversee the firm in order to become established, but legal organisations online claim they can provide such people. Drivers can then operate across the EU using a ‘community licence’ for international road haulage.

Bulgaria’s land border with Turkey made it one of the main gateways into Europe from Africa and the Middle East during the migration crisis.

But a number of measures, including the creation of a razor-wire fence on the border, increased patrols and the signing of an accord with Turkey, have significantly limited the number of migrants using it as a gateway since 2015.

Since the start of the year, 1,742 people have applied for asylum in Bulgaria, compared to 19,480 in 2016. The staunch anti-immigration stance of Bulgaria’s government and reinforced border security has further limited accessibility, although it remains difficult to determine exact figures for illegal entry.

Once inside Bulgaria, migrants often make contact with smuggling gangs and are shipped towards western Europe. 

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said: ‘In order to ensure we maintain the dignity of the people who sadly lost their lives, we will be moving the lorry and the trailer shortly.’

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. 

Her comments come after politicians from all sides of the spectrum pledged to tackle the issues which had risen to the forefront of Prime Minister’s Question’s yesterday.

Boris Johnson has said that people traffickers ‘should be hunted down and brought to justice’. As Home Secretary Priti Patel has also pledged for tougher sentences for human traffickers.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions Mr Johnson said the situation was an ‘unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking’. 

Putting the Brexit crisis aside, he said the ‘full force of the law’ would come down on those responsible. 

He added: ‘I know that the thoughts and prayers of all members will be with those who lost their lives and their loved ones.

I’m receiving regular updates. The Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened.’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also reflected on the tragedy, branding it ‘unbelievable’. 

He said: ‘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?’ 

Ms Patel also highlighted that she would be happy to engage in discussions with the Ministry of Justice in order to see what could be done about the situation. 

She said that ‘Home Office immigration officials will be working closely alongside them to establish how this horrific event came to happen.’ 

Alp Mehmet, the chairman of the group Migration Watch UK, called on the government to better patrol Britain’s borders to ensure such tragedies were not repeated.

He said: ‘People-trafficking is a sickening business. It continues not only because the traffickers make huge amounts of money from it but are also often able to get away with it.

What is it like freezing to death?

Shivering and hallucinations as your body battles to keep vital organs active 

The first step in freezing to death is a raised heart rate and an increase in breathing as your blood seeks to protect internal organs by slowing the flow to the extremities.

In an attempt to generate heat, your body will now start to shiver. Hypothermia takes just 10 minutes to set in at -1C (30.F). 

Organs shut down and the body goes into shock when the heart struggles to pump blood. At this point your liver and kidneys are at risk of failing.

Once your body temperature is below 35C (95F), every one-degree drop reduces your brain’s ability to produce oxygen by three to five per cent.

This causes weakness and confusion and, once you’re below 33C (91F), amnesia.

Your body gives up shivering once below 31C (88F). Your blood thickens and oxygen intake drops by 25 per cent. The body feels a desperate need to urinate as the kidneys try to process excess fluids forced in by the constriction of your extremities.

The heat stops functioning properly once your temperature hits 30C (86F) and pumps 66 per cent less blood than usual.

Hallucinations occur due to the lack of oxygen and slow metabolism of the brain followed by death. 

‘The risk is that more such tragedies will occur for so long as the UK fails to properly resource the border and return those who have no right to be here, which all but encourages traffickers to ply their trade by exploiting people who put their lives in their evil hands.’

Despite the investigation being at an early stage and it being unclear where the victims died, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has already blamed the British government.

The charity’s chief executive Satbir Singh said: ‘Nobody should be in any doubt that the ultimate responsibility for these deaths lies with government policy which has deliberately closed down safe and legal routes into Britain.’ 

Bulgarian foreign ministry spokesman Tsvetana Krasteva said: ‘We are in contact with our embassy in London and with British authorities.’ 

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said: ‘We are aware of this tragic incident which is now the subject of a murder investigation being led by Essex Police and we have deployed NCA officers to assist.

‘We are working with partners including Essex Police and Immigration Enforcement to provide specialist support to urgently identify and take action against any organised crime groups who might have played a role in causing these deaths.’

In 2015, 71 migrants, including eight women and four children, were found dead in the back of a Slovakian meat lorry which was abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway. 

The industrial estate where the lorry was found on Wednesday is next to the Dartford Crossing and is used as a stopping point for lorries travelling south to the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, although the planned route of the lorry involved is unknown. 

The conveyor belt of human misery: How people-smuggling gangs move migrants from China to be slaves in UK – with 39 bodies in Essex only the latest deaths in long-running tragedy

The discovery of 39 Chinese immigrants found frozen to death in the back of a lorry has exposed how human trafficking gangs are continuing to exploit a 5,000 mile people smuggling route from China to the UK.

A conveyor belt of victims are being brought to Britain on journeys through Asia and mainland Europe that can take months, in a criminal racket that has been ongoing for years.

Many who arrive here were crammed into the containers on ships and then ferried by road to their destinations where the are forced to work as slaves in nail bars, brothels, massage parlours and restaurants. 

Yesterday’s tragedy, in which 31 men and eight women died in ‘absolutely horrendous’ conditions as they tried to reach the UK on a cargo ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium, recalls other shocking incidents involving other Chinese nationals smuggled into the UK.

In July 2000 the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants, who had travelled from China’s southern Fujian province, were found in the back of a truck at the port of Dover in Kent. Two people survived.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

A conveyor belt of victims are being brought to Britain on journeys through Asia and mainland Europe, through countries like Bulgaria (marked on the map) then to Holland or Belgium and into the UK. It is a journey that can take months, in a criminal racket that has been ongoing for years

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Police and rescue workers carry a body into an ambulance at Morecambe lifeboat station in February 2004, after a group of Chinese cockle pickers were trapped by the rising tide

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Rescue teams search over Morecambe Bay for any survivors after cockle pickers became trapped by the rising tide

They were found stowed away with a cargo of tomatoes after a ferry ride from Zeebrugge, the same Belgian port that featured in the latest tragedy. 

A Dutch truck driver was later jailed for 14 years for their manslaughter after he reportedly closed the only air vent and they suffocated to death.

Perry Wacker He had shut the trailer’s air vent because he was worried about noise alerting Customs. Detectives believe Wacker would have received around GBP300 for each immigrant. 

Four years later in February 2004 at least 21 Chinese workers, again, who had travelled from the Fujian province, drowned off the coast of Morcecambe Bay in Lancashire when they are trapped by the incoming tide after picking cockles. 

A man, originally from China, was later found guilty of manslaughter. He and his Chinese girlfriend and cousin were also convicted of helping those who died to break immigration laws.

In 2017 a bulldog breeder and show judge who made more than GBP100,000 by luring Asian woman to Britain to work in a prostitution network was jailed for four years.

Hong Chin, 45, had 18 sex workers from China and Malaysia staying in budget hotels around Gatwick Airport and the south east and south west of England.

Chin began his ‘shameful’ double life as a pimp while he managed Royal Esher Bulldogs on a country estate in Surrey and adjudicated on dog shows including the London Bulldog Society Open Show in June 2015.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The container lorry that carried dead asylum seekers into Dover docks in June 2000

The human trafficker advertised sex workers for up to GBP100-an-hour on ‘adultwork.com’ and used the profits to send his daughter to a top private school. 

Chin’s former partner Li Wei Gao, 44, and his former lover Ting Li Lu, 47, were also convicted of helping to run the escort service. 

In March, 2006, a man originally from China was found guilty of manslaughter by a British court.

He and his Chinese girlfriend and cousin were also convicted of helping those who died to break immigration laws, according to the BBC. 

Earlier this month it emerged that the number of British people rescued from slavery and helped by the Salvation Army has more than doubled, according to the charity. The Salvation Army said for the first year, China became the third most common country of origin for victims who benefited from its help.

Nando Sigona, a professor of migration studies at the University of Birmingham, who has studied Chinese immigrants to the UK told the Associated Press: ‘The fact that all these people came from the same country could hint to a more organized crime scenario. 

‘Usually, if it’s an ad hoc arrangement at the port, you would get a bit of a mix of nationalities.’

He told AP that China’s rising middle class has more access to multiple routes to come to the West legally – say, with student or tourist visas. 

This means that the West is now closer to the public imagination in China, and could prompt those with fewer resources might put themselves and their families into debt in hopes of reaping similar rewards.

There have been similar tragedies involving other nationalities.

In August 2014, 36 Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex, close to yesterday’s incident.

One man in the container, Meet Singh Kapoor, 40, died during an overnight crossing from Belgium.

Police said the group, who were part of the Sikh minority in their home country and were fleeing persecution there, had suffered a ‘horrendous ordeal’.

In 2016, two human traffickers were jailed for 17 years after being convicted at Basildon Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.

Stephen McLaughlin, 49, and Martin McGlinchey, 36, were sentenced after the court heard Mr Kapoor’s family were forced to watch him die of natural causes.

In October 2001, a van load of 26 Sri Lankan refugees were found near to suffocation at Dover Docks after crossing from Calais in a van on a ferry.

The group, three of them women, were suffering from dehydration and the effects of breathing in fumes when they were discovered by Customs inspectors.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

In 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in this meat lorry

Police said at the time: ‘They had very little air left and time was running out for them. If it had been a little while later they were found, they may not have been alive.’

And in August 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in the back of a refrigerated lorry which was then dumped at the side of an Austrian motorway.

Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the victims who suffocated in the lorry in Hungary before it was found near Parndorf in Austria in 2015.

The group had made their way to the Serbian border with Hungary before being packed into the air-tight poultry lorry. Austrian police later found the bodies piled on top of each other.

The deaths in August 2015 led Germany’s Angela Merkel to say she would open the country’s borders to refugees, eventually allowing in more than one million people.

Today’s incident is thought to be the biggest case of mass murder in Britain for 14 years since the terror attacks on the London transport network on 7/7 in 2005, which left 56 dead including the four suicide bombers.

The death toll is also higher than that of tragedies such as the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, which left 23 people dead including attacker Salman Abedi.

The total is also well above that of the Dunblane school massacre near Stirling in Scotland in March 1996 in which 18 people died including shooter Thomas Hamilton.

Murder detectives in Essex are still interviewing lorry driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, who was arrested after the tragic discovery of the migrants in Thurrock, Essex, at 1.40am yesterday. 

His home in Markethill, Co Armagh, was raided last night before a team entered the nearby home he used to share with his parents, who have flown to England overnight to support their son.

A third property in Armagh City was also searched this morning.

Police are focussing on whether Robinson knew he was picking up dozens of immigrants from Purfleet docks on Tuesday night amid claims his HGV’s -25c chiller unit, usually carrying biscuits and mushrooms from Ireland, was switched on. 

The migrants were huddled inside the super-chilled sound-proofed container for at least 15 hours by the time the door was opened by Mr Robinson, who called an ambulance from an industrial estate in Thurrock.                  

In cold blood: How people-smuggling gangs use refrigerated lorries to hide their human cargo from port officials’ thermal cameras… to tragic ends

A refrigerated container was used to smuggle 39 Chinese nationals into the UK because it evaded detection by thermal imaging equipment, security staff at the port where it entered Britain have claimed.

The container arrived at Purfleet port, Essex, on the River Thames from Zeebrugge, Belgium.

Security personnel at both ports are equipped with thermal cameras which are used to try and detect stowaways. These are used for traditional containers but not refrigerated ones.

Staff at the Purfleet dock have been warned that they could lose their jobs if they speak to the media about the 39 Chinese nationals discovered dead in a container.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Scanners used to detect stowaways in lorries but sources claim they don’t work as well on refrigerated units. This is image was taken at Dover, showing migrants sitting on top of boxes inside a traditional container

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The scanners take a 3D view of the truck – but the process can take up to an hour to complete meaning not all lorries are always checked

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The driver of the lorry, Mo Robinson, 25, is understood to have passed out after finding the people dead in the back of his lorry

One security official, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Thermal imaging equipment doesn’t work on refrigerated containers. They are simply too cold, and you can’t pick up any heat that might be coming from somebody hidden inside.

Suspected migrants detained at Belgian port where container holding 39 dead people came from 

A group of suspected migrants has been detained in Zeebrugge a day after 39 people were found dead inside a container shipped from the Belgian port.

Some of them were seen trying to climb a fence into a compound attached to a trucking company before they were intercepted by police on a busy road.

A group of eight men was then taken away after three vans arrived on the scene on Thursday morning.

Lorry drivers nearby told of their constant battle to stop migrants determined to hitch a ride on their vehicles in a bid to cross the Channel.

One had been close to the scene where the bodies of 39 Chinese people, including eight women, were discovered in a refrigerated trailer in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday shortly after it was picked up at Purfleet. 

Another driver, who is also from Yorkshire, said migrants trying to get on board their lorries ‘happens on a regular basis’, with security a large part of the job.

‘You’re expected to be on 24-hour duty,’ he said.

‘As a driver, you can only do so much to be fair.

‘Two weeks ago me and another driver pulled up together.

We heard them getting in the back, about 20 moving around.

‘We pulled seven out of his trailer and four out of mine.

‘It happens on a regular basis.’

Another driver added: ‘I got stopped in Calais, went through all the checks from the French (authorities). I got to the English port, the dog came around barking at the trailer and there were four immigrants inside. I was fined GBP2,500.’

‘The smuggling gang must have known this, it just goes to show how clever they are.

They are constantly looking for loopholes and sadly, it’s ended up with all these people losing their lives.’

Another security worker said: ‘They were able to get through Zeebrugge and Purfleet ports because the equipment we both have doesn’t pick up people in refrigerated containers.

‘These people never stood a chance. Even if the refrigerated container had been turned off, they are airtight and anybody in there for a long period of time would suffocated to death. Coffins have more air in them than these things once they are sealed shut.’

Both members of staff claimed that it is ‘impossible’ to search every container that passes through Purfleet port and only random checks are carried out.

They also claimed that refrigerated containers are rarely opened for inspection for fear that it could damage the goods inside.

One added: ‘This is a very busy place and you can’t go through everything that arrives here.

We don’t have the equipment, personnel or the time. Bigger ports like Dover have more resources but not here.’

The port, which is run by a company called C RO Ports London, Ltd is spread across 90 acres and handles 200,000 containers, 200,000 trailers and 200,000 cars each year.

The company refused to comment on the number of checks it carries out and the use of thermal imaging equipment.

Local Chaima Allali said she believed people smugglers often use the estate.

The 21-year-old said: ‘Migrants have been found in lorries a few times, it’s kind of a regular occurrence.

‘There have been times when there has been a helicopter and reinforcements have had to come to the lorries.

‘It’s common, there are loads of transport companies in the area with similar issues with migrants.

How do ports detect migrants inside lorries? 

X-ray scanners: Lorries are driven into a tunnel where a team slowly scan the container for signs of life using X-rays and heat sensors. The process takes around an hour so lorries are picked at random.

Some older scanners may not work on refrigerated containers because they contain a vacuum, it has been claimed.

Physical inspections: Border force teams or police look to see if a container has been tampered with and if necessary will open it up to check the contents.

Sniffer dogs: Teams of sniffer dogs and officers with hand scanners are often sent into a container to see if anyone is hidden behind, under or inside goods.

‘Deaths have never happened before and I am completely and utterly shocked and devastated that this has happened today.

‘These people are human beings they are fleeing from war from persecution and they only come here for a better opportunity to live a regular life like me and you today.

‘For them to risk their lives like this they deserve dignity and respect – that is why I came here to lay flowers.’

Staff working at businesses around the Waterglade Industrial Park said they had seen people they believed to be migrants in the area.

One mechanic said: ‘You see people wandering around here looking like they don’t know where they are and what they’re doing.

‘I think they’re migrants – it’s the kind of place where there are lots of comings and goings so these things often go unnoticed.’ 

The worst disaster since 58 were killed in tomato lorry in Kent 

Today’s incident in Essex has chilling echoes of a tragedy 19 years ago in Kent in which 58 Chinese stowaways died on the way from Belgium to Britain.

Customs officers discovered the bodies of 54 men and four women in the back of a tomato lorry which arrived in Dover on June 18, 2000.

The migrants had suffocated after their air vent was closed. Driver Perry Wacker was later jailed for 14 years for manslaughter.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

A total of 58 Chinese migrants were killed in 2000 when they suffocated in the back of a tomato lorry arriving at the Port of Dover

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The container lorry that carried dead asylum seekers into Dover docks in June 2000

He had shut the trailer’s air vent because he was worried about noise alerting Customs. Detectives believe Wacker would have received around GBP300 for each immigrant.

In August 2014, 36 Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex, close to today’s incident.

One man in the container, Meet Singh Kapoor, 40, died during an overnight crossing from Belgium.

Police said the group, who were part of the Sikh minority in their home country and were fleeing persecution there, had suffered a ‘horrendous ordeal’.

In 2016, two human traffickers were jailed for 17 years after being convicted at Basildon Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The scene inside the container lorry in which 58 died at Dover in June 2000

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles 39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

The driver of that lorry was later jailed for 14 years for manslaughter.

Right: A Daily Mail front page from the tragedy in Dover in 2000

Stephen McLaughlin, 49, and Martin McGlinchey, 36, were sentenced after the court heard Mr Kapoor’s family were forced to watch him die of natural causes.

In October 2001, a van load of 26 Sri Lankan refugees were found near to suffocation at Dover Docks after crossing from Calais in a van on a ferry.

The group, three of them women, were suffering from dehydration and the effects of breathing in fumes when they were discovered by Customs inspectors.

Police said at the time: ‘They had very little air left and time was running out for them. If it had been a little while later they were found, they may not have been alive.’

And in August 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in the back of a refrigerated lorry which was then dumped at the side of an Austrian motorway.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

In 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in this meat lorry

Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the victims who suffocated in the lorry in Hungary before it was found near Parndorf in Austria in 2015.

The group had made their way to the Serbian border with Hungary before being packed into the air-tight poultry lorry. Austrian police later found the bodies piled on top of each other.

The deaths in August 2015 led Germany’s Angela Merkel to say she would open the country’s borders to refugees, eventually allowing in more than one million people.

Today’s incident is thought to be the biggest case of mass murder in Britain for 14 years since the terror attacks on the London transport network on 7/7 in 2005, which left 56 dead including the four suicide bombers.

The death toll is also higher than that of tragedies such as the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, which left 23 people dead including attacker Salman Abedi.

The total is also well above that of the Dunblane school massacre near Stirling in Scotland in March 1996 in which 18 people died including shooter Thomas Hamilton.

‘I’m still haunted by the screams and smell of death’: Refugees tell of horrific journeys to Britain while crammed in the back of ‘metal coffin’ lorries

Refugees have revealed their horrific journeys to Britain and the terror they felt crammed in the back of ‘metal coffin’ lorries.  

Ahmad Al-Rashid told of his harrowing journey after yesterday’s discovery on an Essex industrial estate brought back the trauma.

He travelled for 55 days as he fled Aleppo for London in 2015 and says ‘the smell of death’ is ‘impossible to forget’.

Sharing his ordeal, he said on Twitter: ‘I was in the back of a couple of refrigerated lorries in 2015 with frozen chicken and meat.

‘In one of the incidents I was kept there for two hours, it was freezing cold… people started coughing and freezing… so we started to knock and knock and knock.

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles 39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Left: Ahmad Al-Rashid, who told of his harrowing journey after yesterday’s discovery of 39 bodies in a container on an Essex industrial estate brought back the trauma.

Right: Sabir Zazai, who is now chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, said every moment on the truck he came to the UK in felt like his life was ending

39 Chinese migrants found in death trap lorry had travelled 5,000 miles

Gulwali Passarlay (pictured on today’s Good Morning Britain), from Afghanistan, fled the Taliban dictatorship and also came to the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry

‘You are at the mercy of the smugglers to come and get you out because it’s all locked from outside. The screams of those people still haunt me.

‘I can never forget the eyes of those who were with me on that tanker with no air, no light, nothing but the smell of death. It’s impossible to forget it.

I can hear them screaming to death because I was there.

‘I can feel them clinging onto life but in vain. I just realised how lucky I am to be alive.’ 

The English literature graduate said yesterday’s grim discovery was a ‘tragic, tragic incident’ after it emerged that the people inside the lorry froze to death. 

Arsenal fan Mr Al-Rashid said the people inside would have left their homes having no other option. 

‘You won’t do this unless you have no option,’ he said. ‘When I left Syria it was a dreadful situation…you look for places of safety when your children could grow up and where there will be a future for them.’

Police are quizzing Mo Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland as they investigate the deaths following the bodies being found in a refrigerated trailer in Grays and the National Crime Agency is investigation any links to to traffickers. 

Refugee Gulwali Passarlay, from Afghanistan, fled the Taliban dictatorship and also came to the UK in the back of a refrigerated lorry.

Today he told Good Morning Britain that the UK and its ‘hostile environment’ bears some responsibility for the people smuggling trade. 

‘I think it exists because governments like Britain doesn’t have safer means to travel,’ he said.

‘If there was civilised and ways that people can have safe passage then I wouldn’t have risked my life – I wouldn’t have been in that container.’

Another refugee who fled the Taliban, Sabir Zazai, who is now chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, told the Daily Mirror of his ordeal being crammed into a truck with other migrants.

‘It was ink black and we were so squashed our legs were tucked up and there was no room to stand,’ he said. ‘My main memory of that final journey is the terror I felt. Each moment felt like my life was ending.’ 

Essex police began a murder inquiry yesterday as they attempted to establish who the migrants were and which country they had travelled from.

Like thousands of others before them, the group are thought to have sneaked inside the container at the busy Belgian shipping port of Zeebrugge, where row after row of rectangular metal containers are lined up ready to be transported to the UK.

Police are trying to establish when the group got inside and if smugglers found the container for them and then locked the door behind them.

The container was placed on a cargo ship on Tuesday, which then set sail around 2pm.

The choppy Channel crossing took around ten hours before the ship docked at the Essex port of Purfleet on the Thames at 12.30am yesterday.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said those inside would have frozen to death in horrendous conditions if the refrigeration had been switched on.

 

 

 

 

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