The bodies of 39 people were found in a refrigerated container in Essex on Wednesday, 23 October 2019. Although Essex Police initially believed that all 31 men and 8 women were Chinese nationals, recent victim identification by has found that at least 6 of them were Vietnamese. Four individuals have been arrested for suspicion of murder, and an extensive investigation is underway. Maurice Robinson, the driver of the lorry, has been convicted of human trafficking, immigration, and money laundering offenses. Essex Police told BBC that they were working to piece together the circumstances of this horrific event in the largest murder investigation of the force’s history.
The trailer was found by ambulance staff through an anonymous tip at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays just before 01:40 local time, a town only 15 kilometers east of London. GPS data has shown that the refrigerated container trailer was leased to Global Trailer Rentals in Monoghan, Republic of Ireland. However, the company told media reports that it was entirely unaware that the trailer would be used in the manner that it was. After Monoghan, the trailer reached Dublin, before crossing over to Holyhead in Wales on 16 October 2019. It then traveled to continental Europe, passing through Dover and Calais in France. Between 17 and 22 October, the trailer moved across Belgium and France, visiting Dunkirk, Burges, and Lille. It made its final crossing from Zeebrugge, Belgium to Purfleet on 22 October 2019. The refrigerated lorry trailer was said to be bringing in immigrants from continental Europe. Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, a Vietnamese catholic priest has said, most of the dead are to be from impoverished Vietnamese provinces. They were in search of a better life. One of the alleged victims families who feared that her daughter Pham Thi Tra My, were among the dead, shared chilling final messages from her daughter just two hours before the lorry arrived in Essex. She wrote: I am sorry Mum, my path to abroad did not succeed. Followed by: Mum, I love you and Dad so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe. The family has also said that they paid £30,000 for Tar Myís travel to Britain via China. Furthermore, the father of Nguyen Dinh Luong, another potential victim, came forward with a similar story. On the arrest of the third suspect, detectives have stepped up their operation to uncover an alleged international people-smuggling network behind the deaths. Police officers in Belgium are hopeful to catch the driver who transported the 30 migrants to Zeeburgge port terminal, after obtaining CCTV images of his vehicle. MP Jackie Doyle-Price said, “This is an international crime world where many gangs are making lots of money and until states act collectively to tackle that is going to continue.” Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have also expressed their sympathy, stating that the event was an unimaginable human tragedy. Johnson also said that the Home Office has been working closely with Essex Police.
A vigil was held outside the Home Office to call for urgent action to ensure safe passage for people fleeing war and poverty.