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)

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Branden Macnaughton, Lane Ogden, Kourtney Holberton, and Kally Campbell skate along Sparwood’s new skating trail. (Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press)
Lace up those skates: District of Sparwood opens public skating trail

The 400 metre long loop is located next to the Recreation and Leisure Centre

Mike Delich kneels at the start of the Olympic Downhill in 2006. (Photo Contributed)
Fernie local Mike Delich receives CSA’s Dee Read Memorial Award

The award recognizes Delich’s contributions to snowsports as a FIS Technical Delegate

The Cranbrook Climate Hub will be hosting a webinar this coming Friday (January 29) that focuses on sustainable jobs. (Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay)
Cranbrook Climate Hub to host webinar on sustainable jobs

Bruce Wilson, former General Manager for Shell, will speak on ‘looking beyond Keysone XL’

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19:

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Vernon has agreed to a goose cull to control the over-populated invasive species making a muck of area parks and beaches. (Morning Star file photo)
Okanagan city pulls the trigger on goose cull

City asking neighbours to also help control over-population of geese

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
Ben Tyler was working on a Nicola area ranch when he disappeared. File photo
2 years after his riderless horse was found, police believe Merritt cowboy was killed

Two years after he went missing, Ben Tyner’s family makes video plea for information

A ground worker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 unloads lobsters from a WestJet Airlines flight at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Trudeau teases stricter travel measures; Canadians flying to U.S. now need COVID test

Prime minister says measures need to not hurt imports and essential trade

Most Read