Essex lorry deaths: PSNI search two NI addresses after 39 bodies found

Police have searched two addresses in Northern Ireland as officers continue to question a Co Armagh man over the discovery of 39 bodies in a refrigerated lorry trailer.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 7:21 am
Updated Thursday, 24th October 2019, 12:32 pm
Police and forensic officers activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 23, 2019. Early indications suggest there 38 are adults and one teenager, police said. The lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the country at Holyhead, North Wales, one of the main port for ferries from Ireland. See PA story POLICE Container. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

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.

One address was in Markethill and one in Laurelvale, the BBC reported. Mr Robinson remains in custody for questioning by Essex Police on suspicion of murder. At this time he has not been charged with any offence.

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

The BBC reported that Essex police are currently focussing investigations on when the trailer and lorry came together, using CCTV and making door to door inquiries in the industrial estate where the tragedy unfolded.

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 and reportedly arrived at the port around the same time.

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.

The trail of the lorry’s journey leads to Bulgaria via Belgium. The red and white Scania truck was registered in Varna, on the east coast of Bulgaria, under the name of a company owned by a female Irish citizen. It was carrying a rented Irish container from a firm called GTR and had distinctive markings and the words “The ultimate dream” written across the windscreen.

GTR confirmed that the refrigerated trailer was rented on 15 October from its site in Co Monaghan. The company said it was co-operating fully with the UK police.

A spokesman said it was “gutted the trailer had been used in this way”.

The white trailer in which the bodies were discovered is thought to have arrived in the country from Zeebrugge, in Belgium, into Purfleet, on the river Thames, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12:30am on Wednesday morning, police said. The front Scania unit of the lorry is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland.

However, they now believe the lorry trailer travelled from Zeebrugge to Purfleet, Essex, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12.30am on Wednesday. A freight ferry service runs between Zeebrugge and Purfleet.

Police believe the tractor unit and trailer left the port in Thurrock shortly after 1.05am. It was then captured on CCTV on the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays at about 1.10am, where it remained. Paramedics responding to multiple calls about suspected dead bodies alerted police at about 1.40am.

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 smugglers 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.

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.