Police escort the truck, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, as they move it from an industrial estate in Thurrock, south England, 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. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Police escort the truck, that was found to contain a large number of dead bodies, as they move it from an industrial estate in Thurrock, south England, 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. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

UK police expand probe, say 39 dead in truck all from China

The 25-year-old truck driver was being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder

All 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container truck near an English port were Chinese citizens, British police confirmed Thursday as they investigated one of the country’s deadliest cases of people smuggling.

The Essex Police force said 31 men and eight women were found dead in the truck early Wednesday at an industrial park in Grays, a town 25 miles (40 kilometres) east of London.

The 25-year-old truck driver, who is from Northern Ireland, was being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder but has not been charged. Police in Northern Ireland also searched three properties as they sought to piece together how the truck’s cab, its container and the victims came together on such a deadly journey.

READ MORE: Grim find as 39 found dead in 1 of UK’s worst trafficking cases

The truck and container apparently took separate journeys before ending up at the industrial park. British police said they believe the container went from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Purfleet, England, where it arrived early Wednesday and was picked up by the truck driver and driven the few miles to Grays.

The truck cab, which is registered in Bulgaria to a company owned by an Irish woman, is believed to have come from Northern Ireland, then headed to Dublin to catch a ferry to Wales before driving across Britain to pick up the container.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chinese embassy employees in the U.K. were driving to the scene of the crime to aid the investigation and Belgian police were trying to track down information from Zeebrugge.

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 criminal gangs are still profiting from large-scale trafficking.

The tragedy recalls the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants who suffocated in a truck in Dover, England after a perilous, months-long journey from China’s southern Fujian province. They were found stowed away with a cargo of tomatoes after a ferry ride from Zeebrugge, the same Belgian port that featured in the latest tragedy.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed in Parliament that people smugglers would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. English-speaking Britain, with its high demand for tourism, restaurant and agricultural workers, remains a very attractive destination for immigrants from all countries, even as the U.K. is rethinking its immigration rules as it prepares to leave the 28-nation European Union.

Nando Sigona, a professor of migration studies at the University of Birmingham, said tougher migration controls born of populist anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe are closing down less dangerous routes to the West and encouraging smugglers to take more risks and try out new routes.

“The fact that all these people came from the same country could hint to a more organized crime scenario,” he told The Associated Press. “Usually, if it’s an ad hoc arrangement at the port, you would get a bit of a mix of nationalities.”

Smugglers — many of whom are paid their final installment only when the person is delivered to his destination — earn more by packing as many people as possible into a ship or truck.

“Death is a side effect,” he said.

In February 2004, 21 Chinese migrants — also from Fujian — who were working as cockle-pickers in Britain drownedwhen they were caught by treacherous tides in Morecambe Bay in northwest England.

Sigona, who has studied Chinese immigrants to the U.K., said China’s rising middle class has more access to multiple routes to come to the West legally — say, with student or tourist visas. This means that the West is now closer to the public imagination in China, and could prompt those with fewer resources might put themselves and their families into debt in hopes of reaping similar rewards.

Belgian authorities said they had not made much headway in finding out how the container ended up in Zeebrugge.

“Up till now, we have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. We don’t even know which road was followed by the truck in Belgium,” said Eric Van Duyse, spokesman for the Belgian prosecutor’s office. “We don’t know how much time it stayed in Belgian territory. We don’t know if it stopped or not.”

U.K. authorities have warned for several years that people smugglers are turning to Dutch and Belgian ports because of increased security measures on the busiest cross-Channel trade route between the ports of Calais in France and Dover in England.

Britain’s National Crime Agency warned in 2016 that people smuggling using containers on ferries was “the highest-priority organized immigration crime threat.” The same year, the U.K. Border Force identified Zeebrugge and the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands as key launching points for smuggling people into Britain.

___

Raf Casert in Brussels and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed.

Danica Kirka And Jill Lawless, 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

Mark Skage and his son Mica during the filming of a West Kootenay episode of Start ‘em Young. Photo: Submitted
TV show films West Kootenay hunting trip

Start ‘Em Young aims to encourage kids to get out in the wilderness

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

While pharmacies across B.C. are using AstraZeneca for public immunizations for people 40 years of age and older, there is no availability currently in the Kootenays. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
No AstraZeneca vaccine availability in Kootenay pharmacies, says Interior Health

Vaccine has been opened up at pharmacies in other areas of the province to people 40 years of age and older

Michel-Natal-Sparwood Heritage Society runs a museum that was established to display the heritage of the "no-longer towns" of Michel and Natal, and the Elk Valley Area. Photo Submitted/Monica Beranek, Artifact Curator
Sparwood to support museum financially through to December 2022

The district will provide financial support for the museum to hire a full-time director

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

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

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Most Read