Lorry trailer deaths: what we know so far

The discovery of 39 dead migrants in the trailer of a lorry has sparked the largest murder case in Essex Police history.

Here is what we know so far:

– Four people have been arrested after the bodies of eight women and 31 men were discovered in a refrigerated trailer in Grays in the early hours of Wednesday.

– A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted Airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.

– Earlier that day, a couple named locally as haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both 38, were arrested on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.

– The driver of the Scania truck, named locally as 25-year-old Mo Robinson, from Northern Ireland, also remains in custody after he was held on suspicion of murder on Wednesday.

– Police in Northern Ireland have searched three properties near Portadown in Co Armagh in connection with the arrest.

– These include Mr Robinson’s home in Markethill, where he is understood to have moved recently, and the semi-detached family home in a development in nearby Laurelvale.

– Essex Police received the first reports at 1.40am on Wednesday.

– The lorry was found at Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays, Thurrock, in Essex.

– Ambulance staff found all 39 victims, including a young woman, dead inside the container.

– Essex Police initially believed all the victims were Chinese nationals.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

– But after reports some may have been Vietnamese, the force said on Friday “this is now a developing picture” and said it would give no further details until formal identification takes place.

– Police have yet to identify any of the dead, saying the coroner must first establish each person’s cause of death before officers move on to attempt to identify individuals.

– This will be a “substantial operation” and the force “cannot estimate how long these procedures will take”.

– Police began to move the bodies of the victims on Thursday evening, with 11 bodies being moved to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford under a police escort and private ambulance.

– All the bodies are due to be moved and post-mortem examinations carried out.

– The tractor unit or front section of the lorry, which police said is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland, entered the country via Holyhead, north Wales, on October 20, having travelled over from Dublin.

The bodies are to be collected from the Port of Tilbury
The bodies are to be collected from the Port of Tilbury (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

– Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) confirmed they owned the refrigerated back section of the lorry where the bodies were found and said they had leased the trailer on October 15.

– The lorry trailer, where the bodies were found, travelled on a ship from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, Essex, arriving at around 12.30am on Wednesday.

– Police believe the tractor unit and trailer left the port in Purfleet shortly after 1.05am.

– The lorry was later moved under police escort from the industrial park to a secure location at Tilbury Docks.

– The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the lorry was registered in Varna, a city on the east coast of the country, under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen.

– Eric Van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, said that Brussels had started an investigation into the incident and that it was not yet known how long the lorry trailer spent in Belgium.

– A road haulage expert said the lorry container appeared to be a refrigerated unit, with temperatures inside able to drop as low as -25C (-13F).

– Authorities at the Zeebrugge port have said refrigerated trailers are “completely sealed” in the port so it was unlikely the victims were loaded into the container there, adding that the container may not have been checked before leaving Belgium.

Floral tributes left on Eastern Avenue, Grays
Floral tributes left on Eastern Avenue, Grays (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

– If the fridge on the hermetically-sealed trailer was not running there would be no air coming in, suffocating people inside, according to Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.

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

– Home Secretary Priti Patel described the incident as “truly shocking” and met with officers from Essex Police on Thursday morning.

– Officers from Essex Police, the National Crime Agency and Immigration Enforcement are all working on the case.

– The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it was supporting the Essex Police investigation while the Irish police, An Garda Siochana, said they would “provide every assistance possible”.

– A casualty bureau was set up by police for people to call if they are concerned about relatives who may be involved in the incident. The number is 0800 056 0944 in the UK, and 0044 207 158 0010 internationally.

– The incident is the worst of its kind in the UK since the bodies of 58 Chinese people were found in a container at Dover, Kent, in 2000.

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