Thurrock trailer tragedy: Latest update

Thurrock trailer tragedy: Latest update

A lorry driver from Northern Ireland remains in custody over the deaths of 39 Chinese nationals that were found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Essex on Wednesday.

The lorry driver has been named locally as Mo Robinson, a 25-year-old man from Portadown, County Armagh. Three houses have been raided by police in Northern Ireland in connection with the case while the National Crime Agency said it was working to identify "organised crime groups who may have played a part", the BBC reported.

Essex Police had thought the trailer had entered the UK via Holyhead, but they now believe it entered the UK from Zeebrugge, Belgium, arriving in Purfleet on Wednesday at 01:05. Police said the tractor unit came from Northern Ireland via Holyhead and picked up the trailer from Purfleet shortly after it arrived on Wednesday morning. 

The bodies of 39 people were discovered in the container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex at 01:30am on Wednesday.

The lorry has now been moved to a secure site at Tilbury Docks to recover the bodies and preserve "the dignity of the victims".

Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association said:  “We were horrified to see the events in Essex unfold and our thoughts are with the 39 victims and also the emergency services responding to the situation. 

“People traffickers have adapted their methods in recent years and ports have been working with the UK Border Force and the police to deal with these ever varying risks. Ports and shipping companies are all subject to strict security standards set by the International Maritime Organisation. 

“Individual UK port operators have close working relationships with the national security agencies and with local authorities. These organisations have a strong presence at our borders and a close working relationship with ports with which they share intelligence.”

The Road Haulage Association's Chief Executive, Richard Burnett said: “This is subject to an ongoing investigation. Our thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives, but whatever the circumstances of this tragedy it highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries.”

Speaking to the BBC, Burnett was asked if he thought that Border Force were on top of the situation.

 “If I’m honest, no,” was his response. “My sense is that for a long time we have not been listened to. We have not been taken seriously as an industry. For years we have been shouting from the rooftops that these things have been happening week in and week out. Despite this I think that the drivers who are making these journeys feel that they are not being heard; that they’re not being listened to or supported. We have tried hard with the Home Office and with Border Force to make sure that the drivers making the journey from the European mainland to the UK have a voice.

“I am of the firm opinion that there is insufficient focus and support and that this issue isn’t being tackled. If you think about Brexit now, how on earth with everything that we are facing can we get the support of the European countries to make sure that we have the proper measures in place to tackle this issue and to prevent it from happening again?

 “[This] tragedy has highlighted the fact that we’re not just talking about the risk to goods crossing the Channel post Brexit – lives are being risked – and lost.”

Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police Pippa Mills said: ““We will continue to work alongside many other partner agencies to find out what led to these deaths.

“I would like to appeal for anyone who has any information to contact my officers at the Major Investigation Team on 101 or visit our website.”

Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price, whose constituency includes the Grays industrial estate, said: "To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt of human life that is evil and the best thing we can do in memory of those victims is find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."