Essex lorry deaths: 39 bodies found in shipping container

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The bodies of 39 people have been found in a lorry container in Essex.

The vehicle, registered in Bulgaria, was found shortly before 01:40 BST at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, police said.

Everyone inside the container, 38 adults and one teenager, died, Essex Police said.

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

Police believe the vehicle travelled from Zeebrugge, Belgium, into Purfleet on the River Thames.

It docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 00:30, Reuters News Agency reported.

‘Horrendous’ conditions

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said identifying the victims remained a “number one priority”, but was expected to be a “lengthy process”.

The National Crime Agency said it had sent officers to assist and identify any “organised crime groups who may have played a part”.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said the container appeared to be a refrigerated unit, where temperatures could be as low as -25C.

He described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.

A spokesman for the Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry confirmed the truck was registered in the country.

“The Scania truck was registered in Varna (on the east coast) under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen,” he said.

“Police said that it is highly unlikely that they are Bulgarians,” he added.

Police have appealed for witnesses and anyone with information about the lorry’s route to contact them.

A police officer stands watch in front of the lorry
Image captionOfficers are inspecting the lorry at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was an “unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking”.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “I know that the thoughts and prayers of all members will be with those who lost their lives and their loved ones.

“I’m receiving regular updates. The Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened.”

‘Contempt for life’

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “shocked and saddened“, while Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price said it was “sickening news“.

During PMQs, Ms Doyle-Price said: “To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil. The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

Mr Johnson responded saying “all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was an “unbelievable human tragedy”, adding: “Can we just think for a moment of what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, for their lives to end, suffocated to death in a container?”

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the Dail that investigations would be undertaken to establish if the lorry had passed through Ireland.

Forensics on scene
Image captionForensics officers have been at the scene since the bodies were discovered

How many migrants have died in transit?

The number of migrants who die in transit has been recorded by the UN since 2014.

Since then, five bodies of suspected migrants have been found in lorries or containers in the UK:

Data was not collected in the same way before the migrant crisis began in 2014, but such deaths are not new.

In 2000, 58 Chinese migrants were found suffocated to death in a lorry at Dover.

In 2015, the bodies of 71 people were found in an abandoned lorry on an Austrian motorway. Police suspected the vehicle was part of a Bulgarian-Hungarian human trafficking operation.

Media caption”An absolute tragedy and a very sad day for Essex” – Pippa Mills from Essex Police

Essex Police has set up a casualty bureau for anyone concerned about relatives to call.

The British Red Cross has confirmed staff and volunteers were helping “those dealing with this terrible tragedy”.

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