Essex lorry deaths

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Essex lorry deaths
2019 Grays incident map.png
The location where the bodies were discovered in Essex
Date23 October 2019
Time01:40 BST (UTC+1)
LocationGrays, Essex, United Kingdom
Coordinates51°28′44″N 0°16′24″E / 51.4789°N 0.2733°E / 51.4789; 0.2733Coordinates: 51°28′44″N 0°16′24″E / 51.4789°N 0.2733°E / 51.4789; 0.2733
Deaths39
Arrests13
Accused2
Charges

On 23 October 2019, the bodies of 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in the trailer of an articulated refrigerator lorry in Grays, Essex, United Kingdom. They are thought to have been smuggled either as migrants or in human trafficking.

The trailer had been shipped from the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, to Purfleet, UK, and the lorry cab is believed to have come from Northern Ireland, travelling to Great Britain by sea from Dublin to Holyhead. Investigations are being led by Essex Police, and involve the national authorities of the UK, Belgium, Ireland and Vietnam. Two lorry drivers who transported the trailer were charged with manslaughter and other offences, and several other suspects have also been arrested.

Incident[edit]

The lorry was found in Grays in south-west Essex.
The lorry was found in Grays in south-west Essex.
Location of lorry discovery in Essex

On 23 October 2019, shortly after 01:40 BST, staff of the East of England Ambulance Service found 39 bodies in a refrigerated articulated lorry.[1] The lorry was in Eastern Avenue at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex. The ambulance service informed Essex Police, who arrived shortly after. The police did not say who called the ambulance service.[2]

Shortly after the police arrived, Eastern Avenue was closed and not fully re-opened until 25 October.[3][4] The lorry driver was a 25-year-old man from Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder.[3][4]

Lorry[edit]

A refrigerated articulated lorry, similar to the type involved in the incident

The lorry cab was registered in Bulgaria in 2017 in the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen, but had not returned there since, according to the Bulgarian foreign ministry.[2][5] The refrigerated trailer was leased on 15 October from a rental company in County Monaghan.[6] Refrigerated trailers can be kept frozen to preserve perishables, and such trailers are normally airtight, which creates a suffocation risk for any occupants.[2][3][clarification needed]

The lorry cab and the trailer arrived separately in Purfleet, Essex, from where they travelled together the short distance to Grays. Police believe that the cab was driven from Northern Ireland on 19 October. It then travelled through the Republic of Ireland to Dublin, and from there by sea to Holyhead in Wales, from where it was driven to Purfleet.[7][8][9][10] The trailer was loaded onto the freight ferry Clementine in Zeebrugge in Belgium. GPS data showed it had previously travelled to Dunkirk and Lille in France and Bruges.[11] It arrived in Purfleet, a town with a port on the Thames, at around 00:30 on 23 October and was picked up with the cab there about half-an-hour later.[9][12][13]

The Zeebrugge port chairman said it was "highly unlikely" the migrants entered the trailer there, and that breaking the seal, loading 39 people and resealing the trailer without being noticed would be "virtually impossible".[14]

Fatalities[edit]

The ambulance service said that all 39 people were dead before it arrived, and attempts at resuscitation could not be made.[3] The deceased—31 males and 8 females—included 10 teenagers; the 2 youngest were 15-year-old boys.[15]

They are believed to have been either victims of human trafficking, for example as forced labourers, or migrants who paid smugglers to move them to the United Kingdom, or both. Smugglers often force migrants to work off the cost of the trip in slave-like conditions.[16][17] There have been a number of incidents in which migrants to Europe died or were injured as a result of dangerous transportation methods. In an incident in Dover in June 2000, 58 Chinese nationals died in similar circumstances.

Initially the police said the deceased were all Chinese nationals.[13][18][19] On 2 November, police clarified they were all Vietnamese.[20] The family of a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman made public her last text message to her parents which she sent as she was dying;[21] her family said they paid around £30,000 to smuggle their daughter from Vietnam to the UK.[22]

On 3 November, Vietnamese officials provided DNA samples from people in Nghệ An Province and essential documents to help identify the deceased.[23][24] By 7 November, all of the deceased had been formally identified.[25] Names, ages and hometowns were released on 8 November; 20 were from Nghệ An, 10 from Hà Tĩnh, 4 from Haiphong, 3 from Quảng Bình, 1 from Diễn Châu District and 1 from Thừa Thiên-Huế.[26]

Investigation[edit]

A murder investigation was launched on the morning of the day of the discovery.[4] The investigation was the "largest mass fatality victim identification" investigation in the history of Essex Police.[27] The National Crime Agency suggested that organised crime might be involved.[3] The lorry and bodies were moved from the scene to a secure location in Tilbury Docks, another nearby port on the Thames, to continue the investigation. Police later moved the bodies to a mortuary at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for post-mortems to be carried out.[18][28]

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke in Dáil Éireann and said that Irish authorities would investigate any involvement regarding their country.[7] In the evening of 23 October, the Belgian prosecutor's office announced that they would also investigate the lorry's transit through their country.[13] The police suspect that an Irish people-smuggling ring which has been under investigation for around a year might be involved.[29]

On 24 October, the Evening Standard speculated that the trailer had travelled from the Netherlands before its departure from Belgium.[30] British police had also searched two properties in Northern Ireland.[10] Belgian officials said the people were trapped in the trailer for at least 10 hours.[31]

On 25 October, police arrested a man and a woman from Warrington, Cheshire, on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people,[32] and another man at Stansted Airport regarding the same offences.[33] On 27 October, it was announced that these three had been released on bail.[34] After extended questioning, on 26 October Essex Police charged the driver they had arrested with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.[31][35] He appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court on 28 October, when the Crown Prosecution Service alleged that he was part of a "global ring" of people smugglers.[36] He was remanded in custody, to appear at the Central Criminal Court on 25 November.[37]

On 26 October, the Irish police said they had detained a man in his 20s at Dublin Port who was of interest to Essex Police as part of its investigation into the lorry deaths. He was charged with unrelated offences.[38] A Belgian public prosecutor said that this was the lorry driver they had been searching for, who had been seen on CCTV ten times at Zeebrugge while dropping off the refrigerated trailer.[39] Two days later, the prosecutor said that the lorry driver pretended that the trailer was filled with cookies and biscuits.[40]

On 29 October, Essex Police announced that two brothers from Armagh, Northern Ireland, one of whom owned the haulage company operating the lorry cab detained at Grays, were wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking offences related to the incident.[41]

On 1 November, a man from Northern Ireland was re-arrested in the holding cells of the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin following the execution of a European Arrest Warrant issued in the UK. He was charged with 41 offences, including 39 of manslaughter, and extradition proceedings began in the Irish High Court.[42][43] On 4 November, Vietnamese police arrested eight suspects in the central province of Nghệ An in connection with the smuggling ring.[44][45]

Reactions[edit]

Grays from the Thameside

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, said in a tweet that he was "appalled" at the incident, giving his thoughts to the victims and their families, adding that the Home Office was working alongside the Essex Police on the case.[46][8] Priti Patel, the home secretary, said that she was "shocked and saddened by this utterly tragic incident", and that Immigration Enforcement were working with the Essex Police. António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, tweeted that those responsible "must be swiftly brought to justice".[47] Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said greater international co-operation was needed to prevent similar events happening again.[48]

Campaigners against human trafficking organised a vigil to take place outside the Home Office on 24 October in solidarity with the victims.[3] Following the incident, the Chief Executive of the charity group Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said that the British government needs to open safe routes and make quick decisions regarding asylum seekers to prevent such attempts, sentiments echoed by the Refugee and Migrant Rights Director of Amnesty International UK.[3] Other refugee groups have expressed concern that the border confusion surrounding Brexit will give more opportunities for groups to commit similar crimes.[49]

After reports that Vietnamese citizens might be among the deceased, Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, the Vietnamese prime minister, ordered the country's Public Security Ministry and the authorities of its two central provinces of Hà Tĩnh and Nghệ An, where a number of missing citizens come from, to launch a probe on the case.[50] The prime minister also urged his country's Foreign Ministry to direct the Vietnamese embassy in UK to closely monitor the situation, co-ordinate with the British authorities to verify the victims' identities and take protective measures in case it is confirmed Vietnamese are among the victims.[50] After confirmation that they were all from Vietnam, the Vietnamese government strongly condemned human trafficking and called on all countries to combat such activities to prevent a recurrence of the incident.[51]

Extra UK immigration officers are to be deployed at the Belgian border port of Zeebrugge and more Border Force staff will operate at Purfleet as a result of the incident.[52]

Channel 4 postponed a television series called Smuggled that was due to air on 28 October, in which British citizens try to smuggle themselves from mainland Europe to the UK.[53] The first part was broadcast on 4 November after re-editing in the light of the 39 deaths, despite the Home Office describing the timing as "both insensitive and irresponsible". Channel 4 defended its decision as meeting its public service obligations, arguing that revelation of the ease with which people could be smuggled into Britain had become a "matter of urgent public interest".[54]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Essex lorry deaths: Vietnamese families fear relatives among dead". BBC News. 25 October 2019. Archived from the original on 25 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Peltier, Elian; Specia, Megan (23 October 2019). "39 Bodies Found in Truck in U.K.; Police Seek to Retrace Fatal Journey". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 23 October 2019. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Wathen, Tommy; Gregory, James; O'Neill, Lottie; Hooper, Alasdair; Gray, Brad (23 October 2019). "Live: Murder investigation after 39 people found dead in lorry container". EssexLive. Archived from the original on 23 October 2019. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "Update: Friday 25 October 18:07". Essex Police. Archived from the original on 25 October 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2019.
  5. ^ "Truck found in UK with 39 bodies has Bulgarian registration". Reuters. 23 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  6. ^ "Irish company confirms it leased refrigerated trailer at centre of Essex tragedy". RTE News. 24 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Essex lorry deaths: 39 bodies found in refrigerated trailer". BBC News. 23 October 2019. Archived from the original on 24 October 2019. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
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  9. ^ a b Grierson, Jamie; Gayle, Damien; Addley, Esther; Carroll, Rory (23 October 2019). "Driver arrested after 39 bodies found in lorry container in Essex". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 October 2019. Retrieved 23 October 2019.
  10. ^ a b MacMath, Jillian (24 October 2019). "Essex lorry deaths live updates as two houses raided". WalesOnline. Archived from the original on 23 October 2019. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
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  22. ^ Southworth, Phoebe; Sawer, Patrick (26 October 2019). "Migrants buy 'VIP tickets' to Britain to work on cannabis farms and nail bars, human trafficking expert claims". The Telegraph.
  23. ^ Vietnam collects DNA samples to help in Essex lorry deaths case Al-Jazeera, 28 October 2019
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  54. ^ Quinn, Ben (2 November 2019). "Channel 4's Smuggled criticised as insensitive in wake of lorry deaths". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2019.

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