An aerial view as police forensic officers attend the scene after a truck was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, in Thurock, South England, early Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. Police in southeastern England said that 39 people were found dead Wednesday inside a truck container believed to have come from Bulgaria. (UK Pool via AP)

Grim find: 39 dead in 1 of UK’s worst trafficking cases

The truck’s driver — a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland — was arrested on suspicion of murder

Investigators were trying to piece together the movements of a large cargo truck found Wednesday containing the bodies of 39 people in one of Britain’s worst people smuggling tragedies.

Police initially said the cargo truck had travelled through Ireland and then to Wales via ferry, but that theory changed Wednesday afternoon when Essex police in England said they believe the container with the people inside went from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, England, where it arrived early Wednesday. Police also said they believe the tractor unit travelled from Northern Ireland and picked up the container unit.

Details about the victims, including where they were from, were scarce. Essex police said they have not been identified — a process they warned would be slow.

The truck’s driver — a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland — was arrested on suspicion of murder. He has not been charged and his name has not been released. He and other drivers who may have been at the wheel earlier would have taken advantage of the European Union’s generally open borders to travel in several countries without checks at the various frontiers.

The case began when an ambulance service was called at 1:40 a.m. Wednesday to a truck on the grounds of the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London on the River Thames.

In Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put aside the Brexit crisis, at least for a few minutes, and vowed that the people traffickers would be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“All such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice,” he said.

The possible connection to Bulgaria was murky. The Bulgarian foreign ministry said in a press release that the cargo truck has a Bulgarian registration. It said the Swedish-made “Scania” truck is registered in the Bulgarian Black Sea port city of Varna to a company owned by a woman from Ireland.

The number of victims was shocking, although it has become sadly common in recent years for small numbers of migrants to occasionally be found dead in sealed vehicles after having been abandoned by traffickers.

The tragedy recalls the death of 58 migrants in 2000 in a truck in Dover, England, and the deaths in 2015 of 71 migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who were found suffocated in the back of a refrigerated truck that was abandoned on an Austrian highway close to the Hungarian border.

It seems likely the traffickers shunned the most popular English Channel route from Calais, France, to Dover, England because of increased surveillance at those ports and instead chose a more circuitous route.

Dover and Calais, which have been under pressure from human traffickers for years, have sniffer dogs, monitors and more advanced technological surveillance due to the fact that they are the endpoints for the Channel Tunnel between France and Britain.

Groups of migrants have repeatedly landed on English shores using small boats for the risky Channel crossing, and migrants are sometimes found in the trunks of cars that disembark from the massive ferries that link France and England, but Wednesday’s macabre find in an industrial park was a reminder that trafficking gangs are still profiting from the human trade.

“To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil,” lawmaker Jackie Doyle-Price, who represents the region in parliament, told Parliament.

The National Crime Agency said its specialists were working to “urgently identify and take action against any organized crime groups who have played a role in causing these deaths.”

It said in May that the number of people being smuggled into Britain via cargo trucks was on the rise.

It was unclear how the ambulance workers who found the bodies heard of the tragedy. No cause of death has been made public. Police said one victim appeared to be a teenager but gave no further details.

“This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives,” Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner told reporters at a press conference.

A cordon was put around the white tractor-trailer and access to and from the industrial park was restricted. People running businesses in the park said they were unable to open.

The truck’s route across Europe was not clear. Bulgarian authorities said they could not yet confirm that the truck had started its journey in that country.

“We are in contact with our embassy in London and with British authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tsvetana Krasteva said.

___

Veselin Toshkov in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary contributed to this story.

Gregory Katz And Danica Kirka, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Lacombe councillor pushes for 0% tax increase in 2020

City admin will present options at the next council meeting

Encore Under $100 Art Market supports Lacombe Arts Endowment Fund

Art Market coincides with Light Up the Night

City of Lacombe council highlights – Nov. 12,

The next scheduled council meetings is Nov. 25

City of Lacombe passes 2020 Capital Budget and 10-Year Capital Plan

Capital budget comprises 49 projects totaling at estimated $8.8 million

VIDEO: Lacombe honours those who fought for freedom

Remembrance Day ceremony welcomes 100s to LMC

Premier vows to fight for oilpatch as drillers forecast almost no growth in 2020

The CAODC said it expects the Canadian drilling rig fleet to continue to shrink

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meets Trudeau to discuss throne speech

Top ask was the immediate creation of a national universal Pharmacare program

Jagmeet Singh says he’ll vote against throne speech if NDP requests not met

Singh is to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday

Small group of Cherry fans protest his firing at Rogers HQ

One sign at the Toronto rally: ‘Rogers cancels Don, we cancel Rogers’

Ideas for Alberta independence would increase costs, Nenshi says

Province has formed panel to examine how to get what a ‘fairer deal’ from Confederation

Alberta harvest a ‘growing crisis’: MP Blaine Calkins

Alberta Conservative MP’s resolve to assist farmers struggling with harvest

Petition to ‘bring back Don Cherry’ goes viral after immigrant poppy rant

Cherry was fired from his co-hosting role for the Coach’s Corner segment on Nov. 11.

‘We love you, Alex!’: Trebek gets choked up by ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant’s answer

The emotional moment came in Monday’s episode when Trebek read Dhruv Gaur’s final answer

Most Read