First of 39 bodies found in U.K. truck repatriated to Vietnam

LONDON -- Families in Vietnam on Wednesday began receiving the bodies of their loved ones who died in a container truck in England last month.

So far 16 of the 39 victims' bodies have been flown to Hanoi's Noi Bai airport and then taken to their families' homes by ambulance.

The repatriation came two days after a man accused of driving the truck pleaded guilty to assisting in plotting illegal immigration in British court.

"Today, the first victims have been repatriated by plane from London and are now en route to their home provinces," said Gareth Ward, the British ambassador to Vietnam. Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

"I hope this can bring some small comfort to their families and loved ones."

Airport workers unload coffins, carrying some of the 39 bodies found on a truck container in Britain, from an airplane for homeland repatriation at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Vietnam on Nov.

27.Lam Khanh/VNA / Reuters

"Human trafficking is an international problem that requires us to work together to solve it. We will continue working with the Vietnamese authorities to investigate the criminal acts that led to this tragedy," he added.

Essex police confirmed the identities of the 28 men and eight women earlier this month, as well as three boys, two aged 15 and one 17.

It was the largest mass fatality victim identification process in the history of police department, authorities said.

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc expressed his condolences to the families of the victims in a statement earlier this month. He also confirmed Vietnamese authorities were tasked to work with British police in the investigation.

The victims were discovered in the truck on Oct.

23 in an industrial park in the English county of Essex, about 15 miles east of London. The container had been shipped from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium to Essex, police said.

The alleged driver, Maurice Robinson, 25, of Northern Ireland, was accused of being part of an international people-smuggling ring. He pleaded guilty in a London court on Monday to charges related to the plotting of illegal immigration but he wasn't asked to enter pleas to 39 counts of manslaughter or conspiracy to traffic people.

Police said he drove the cab of the truck to the English port of Purfleet, where it picked up the container, which had arrived by ferry from Belgium.

A 36-year-old man was also arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration, British police said Monday.

Two other men have been arrested in Britain and Ireland in connection with the case.

Linda Givetash

Linda Givetash is a reporter based in London.

She previously worked for The Canadian Press in Vancouver and Nation Media in Uganda. 

Associated Press contributed.

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