Essex lorry deaths: All 39 victims found in container 'were Chinese nationals'

The 39 people found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex were Chinese nationals, sources said.

Police have searched two addresses in Northern Ireland as officers continue to question a Co Armagh man over the discovery of the bodies in a refrigerated lorry trailer.

The searches in Co Armagh on Wednesday night are believed to be linked to the arrest of the driver, named in reports as 25-year-old Mo Robinson, from Portadown.

He remains in custody for questioning by Essex Police on suspicion of murder.

There was no answer at the Co Armagh home of Mr Robinson's family.

Detectives have said the trailer containing the victims arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday and the front section to which it was attached, known as the tractor, came from Northern Ireland.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet 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.

Eric Van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, said that Brussels had started an investigation into the incident.

He added: "We have no idea at the moment how long the lorry spent in Belgium, it could be hours or days, we just don't know."

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39 bodies found in shipping container in Essex
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39 bodies found in shipping container in Essex
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate.
(left to right) Mayor of Thurrock Terry Piccolo, Superintendent Craig Saunders and Chief Inspector Claire Talbot (both of Essex Police) sign the Book of Condolence in the Council Chamber of Thurrock Council in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday.
The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaves Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, heading towards Tilbury Docks under police escort.
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills speaks to the media at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate.
Police forensics officers at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate.
Floral tributes at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate.
Murder probe launched as 39 bodies are found in lorry container in Essex
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate.
Police officers are seen at the scene where bodies were discovered in a lorry container, in Grays, Essex, Britain October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Police officers are seen at the scene where bodies were discovered in a lorry container, in Grays, Essex, Britain October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Murder probe launched as 39 bodies are found in lorry container in Essex
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate.
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate.
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate.
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate.
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The incident follows warnings from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Border Force of the increased risk of people-smuggling via Belgium.

An NCA assessment report on serious and organised 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.

A Border Force assessment in 2016 highlighted Zeebrugge as being among "key ports of embarkation for clandestine arrivals".

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said the lorry and the container 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.

The Prime Minister said the perpetrators of the crime "should be hunted down", while local MP Jackie Doyle-Price said the people smugglers responsible must be caught.

Police have said tracking route used "will be a key line of inquiry".

Graphic of bodies found in container lorry
PA Graphics

The Bulgarian ministry of foreign affairs said the truck was registered in Varna in Bulgaria "under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen".

Police originally thought the lorry had travelled to the UK through Holyhead in north Wales on October 19 but later revealed that the trailer had come directly from the Continent.

A freight ferry service runs from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.

Security checks for people smuggling are believed to be less stringent at both ports than at Calais and Dover.

The discovery comes as the NCA said the number of migrants being smuggled into the UK in containers and lorries has risen in the last year.

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