Police begin moving 39 dead bodies from lorry to mortuary

24 October 2019, 08:07

The lorry where 39 bodies were found has been removed from Waterglade Industrial Park
The lorry where 39 bodies were found has been removed from Waterglade Industrial Park. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Police have started to move 39 bodies of Chinese nationals from the lorry they were found in on Wednesday, to a mortuary.

The first 11 victims are being transported under police escort by private ambulance from the Port of Tilbury to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, having left the port at 7.41pm, Essex Police said.

The 31 men and eight women were found in the lorry at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays on Wednesday were all Chinese, according to Essex Police.

In a brief statement, the Chinese embassy in London said it had read the news with a "heavy heart", and was in contact with British authorities for further clarification.

Updates on the nationalities of those who died came on Thursday morning as police searched three properties in Northern Ireland, while the driver remains in custody.

Officers raided the properties in Co Armagh, which are believed to be linked to the arrest of the suspect, named in reports as 25-year-old Mo Robinson, from Portadown.

Detectives secured a warrant of further detention from local magistrates at Basildon on Thursday and the suspect will now remain in custody for up to an additional 24 hours.

Detectives have said the trailer 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.

25-year-old Mo Robinson is allegedly being questioned by police
25-year-old Mo Robinson is allegedly being questioned by police. Picture: Facebook

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.

Essex Police have moved the trailer and lorry to a secure location in Tilbury Docks.

A spokesman for C.RO Ports, which operates terminals at Purfleet and Zeebrugge, said they would "fully assist" the police investigation.

They said: "C.RO Ports is deeply saddened by the discovery in Grays, UK, yesterday of a trailer in which 39 people were found dead.

"It has been widely reported that the trailer entered the UK by ship via C.RO Ports' Purfleet Terminal, originating at our terminal in Zeebrugge. C.RO Ports confirms this is the case. We continue to fully assist UK, Belgian and other law enforcement authorities with their ongoing investigation.

"It will be understood that as there is an investigation underway, we are not able to say anything further at this stage.

"Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those found yesterday."

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."

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 responsible must be caught.

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

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.

Road Haulage Association CEO Richard Burnett said if the was refrigerator was switched on, conditions inside would be "absolutely horrendous" and cause conditions inside to become deadly "pretty quickly".

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