Lorry route will be ‘key line of inquiry’ after 39 bodies found

Police investigating the suspected mass murder of 39 people found in a lorry container on an industrial estate have described the incident as an “absolute tragedy”, amid concerns they may have been victims of trafficking.

The unidentified victims, including a teenager, were found dead inside the container – thought by experts to be a refrigerated unit – at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, early on Wednesday.

Police said the lorry driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

The lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead in North Wales, one of the main ports for ferries from Ireland.

The grim cargo was discovered more than 300 miles away shortly before 1.40am by ambulance staff. No further details have been provided.

Police have said tracking the route of the lorry “will be a key line of inquiry” amid concerns it may have made its way to the British mainland virtually unchecked by avoiding strict controls at Calais in France, and on reaching England at Dover.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled by this tragic incident”, while local Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price said “people trafficking is a vile and dangerous business”, adding: “Let’s hope they bring these murderers to justice.”

Haulage industry experts suggested the lorry was likely to have arrived in Ireland from Cherbourg or Roscoff, avoiding the tighter checks for people-smuggling at Calais and Dover.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said: “This tragedy highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries.”

He told the PA news agency: “It’s highly unlikely that if this vehicle has come from Europe that it’s been physically checked.

“Because of the migrant issue at Dover and Calais, you’ve got far more checks.”

Bodies found in lorry container
A forensic officer inside the cab of a lorry at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It is thought the lorry entered Britain via Dublin, which has the only direct ferry route to Holyhead.

Mr Burnett said the container appeared to be a refrigerated unit, where temperatures can be as low as -25C – and described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.

Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association, told PA: “If the lorry came from Bulgaria, getting into Britain via Holyhead is an unorthodox route.

“People have been saying that security and checks have been increased at places like Dover and Calais, so it might be seen as an easier way to get in by going from Cherbourg or Roscoff, over to Rosslare, then up the road to Dublin.

“It’s a long way around and it’ll add an extra day to the journey.”

Bodies found in lorry container
The Port of Holyhead, in North Wales, where the suspect lorry first entered Britain (David Jones/PA)

During a brief press conference at Grays police station, Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said:  “We believe the lorry is form Bulgaria and came into the UK through Holyhead on October 19.

“At this stage we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities and we anticipate this could be a lengthy process.

“This is an absolute tragedy and very sad day for Essex Police and community. We will continue to work alongside many other partner agencies to find out what led to these deaths.”

Police have set up a casualty bureau for anyone to call if they have concerns about relatives who may be involved.

Aerial footage from the scene shows forensic officers walking in and out of the lorry which is parked on Eastern Avenue opposite Pirtek and Hydraquip.

Two tents have been erected – one in front of the lorry and one behind it with police vehicles on either side.

Bodies found in lorry container
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Police have taped off the area as they investigate.

People who work on the industrial estate spoke of their shock.

Dan Peters, managing director of Pirtek, a hydraulic maintenance company, said: “We’re not able to gain access to our units to open up for daily business.

“Obviously, it’s terrible news.”

Mr Peters said the industrial estate is made up of courier and logistics companies.

The discovery is not the worst of its kind in the UK.

The bodies of 58 Chinese people were found in a container at Dover, Kent, in 2000.

Seven men were jailed by a Dutch court for their role in the human-smuggling operation that led to the young people suffocating and the Dutch lorry driver was jailed for 14 years.

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