Lorry trailer containing bodies of 39 people removed from the scene

Published at 3:33pm 23rd October 2019. (Updated at 10:54pm 23rd October 2019) Police have begun the task of identifying the 39 people who were found dead in a lorry container in an Essex industrial estate. The bodies were discovered in Grays after officers were called at 1.40am on Wednesday morning.

The driver, a 25-year-old man, was arrested on suspicion of murder. Sky News understands he is Mo Robinson, from Portadown in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The cab and refrigerated container have now been moved to a secure location at Tilbury Docks where the bodies will be removed.

They were discovered in the trailer at Waterglade Industrial Park. Officers have not yet established the identities of the victims, who included a teenager. Police say they believe the trailer travelled on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium around 4.30pm on Tuesday to Purfleet, Essex – and then docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12.30am on Wednesday.

Where it was before Zeebrugge is still unclear. The lorry cab, which is thought to have originated in Northern Ireland, left the port in Thurrock with the container soon after 1.05am. CCTV footage has emerged of the lorry driving towards the Waterglade Industrial Park minutes before the bodies were found.

The images were taken at 1.10am and show the vehicle just around the corner from where the discovery was made a short time later at the estate. The Essex force said in a statement: “This will be a lengthy and complex investigation and we continue to work with local partners and international authorities to gather vital intelligence and identify those who have sadly died.” Witness Andy Larkin told Sky News and the police that he saw the lorry parked up at the industrial park on Tuesday afternoon, about 10 hours before making its pick-up at the docks, and possibly waiting for the ferry to dock and swap containers.

He said: “What drew me to it was the unit itself. The cab looked very expensive, big chrome exhausts, and the paintwork on it. It was unusual from being a company lorry.

It was more of a private cab. “I thought someone was asleep inside because the curtains on the cab were pulled around. Like the drivers do when they are sleeping in their cabs.

I thought he was inside.” The Bulgarian ministry of foreign affairs said the Scania truck was registered in Varna, on the east coast of the country, under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen. Police said it was “highly unlikely” the victims were Bulgarians, the ministry added.

The nation’s prime minister Boyko Borissov said Bulgaria has “no connection” to the lorry beyond its registration and that the vehicle had not entered the country since 2017. The East of England Ambulance Service were the first emergency services on the scene and sent five ambulances, hazardous area response teams and a car from the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance. Essex Police were then called.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said: “This tragedy highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries.” He said temperatures in refrigerated units can be as low as -25C and described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”. The discovery is among the worst of its kind in the UK.

The bodies of 58 Chinese people were found in a container at Dover, Kent, in 2000. In 2015, the decomposing bodies of 71 people, including a baby girl, were found inside a lorry on an Austrian motorway. Speaking about Wednesday’s tragedy, the Irish Refugee Council said it represented a needless loss of life.

It said: “No person should find themselves in a situation where they feel that their only choice is to pay smugglers to transport them on dangerous and arduous journeys with no guarantees for their safety or how their journey might end.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” by the incident and said the perpetrators of the crime “should be hunted down and brought to justice”.

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