Murder investigation launched after 39 bodies found in truck
British police have launched one of the largest murder probes in the nation's history after the bodies of 39 people were discovered in the back of a truck on an industrial estate in Essex, east of London.
Five ambulances and a car were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park at 1:40am on Wednesday morning where they made the grisly discovery.
Police were called to the scene and Mo Robinson, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, who was the driver of the vehicle, was arrested on suspicion of murder.
His Facebook page describes him as a "lorry driver" from Laurelvale and includes several photos of a red truck similar to the one now being examined by police.
CCTV showing the truck just moments before it pulled into the industrial estate was released on Wednesday. The red and white Scania Super truck had a sticker on the windscreen which read: "The Ultimate Dream".
Police believe the trailer travelled across the English Channel from Zeebrugge in Belgium into Purfleet in England, and then docked in the Thurrock area after 12:30am on Wednesday morning, while the tractor unit originated from Northern Ireland.
Authorities have not yet revealed the identities or genders of the 39 victims, but they are believed to be 38 adults and one teenager.
Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett told the Irish Mirror the style of container appeared to be a refrigerated unit which would have been "absolutely horrendous" for anyone trapped inside.
Temperatures can reach as low as -25 degrees for frozen products, causing humans to "lose their lives pretty quickly," he said.
"It's going to be dark. If the fridge is running it's going to be incredibly cold.
"The only place to go to the toilet is on board the back of the trailer. You can imagine if they've been in there for days then there will be faeces, there will be urine," he said.
Deputy chief constable Pippa Mills from Essex Police said it was "an absolute tragedy and a very sad day" for officers and the community.
"We believe the lorry is from Bulgaria and came in to the UK through Holyhead on the 19th of October," she told reporters at a press conference.
"At this stage we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities, and we anticipate that this could be a lengthy process."
The truck was registered to a company in Varna on the east coast of Bulgaria - a country infamous for its people-smuggling gangs that charge thousands of euros to ferry migrants into and across Europe.
The East England Ambulance Service (EEAST) said it was first alerted to the scene after receiving a phone call in the early hours of the morning, but could not confirm who made the phone call.
Earlier, chief superintendent Andrew Mariner said: "This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our inquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened".
MP BLAMES 'PEOPLE TRAFFICKING'
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "appalled" by the tragic incident and working closely with police.
"I'm appalled by this tragic incident in Essex. I am receiving regular updates from the Home Office and will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened," he tweeted.
"My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives and their loved ones."
British Home Secretary Priti Patel also said she was "shocked and saddened" by the news.
But Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price was quick to blame people smugglers for the deaths.
"People trafficking is a vile and dangerous business … let's hope they bring these murderers to justice," she tweeted.
Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director, Steve Valdez-Symonds, also weighed in.
"This is a heartbreaking and horrifying incident. People who are forced to take dangerous and sometimes fatal passages to reach the UK often do so because current immigration policies and practices deny them safe and legal options," he said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was an "unbelievable human tragedy".
"Can we just think for a moment of what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, for their lives to end, suffocated to death in a container?" he said.
Labour MP Diane Abbott said: "It's important to remember that these 39 poor, unfortunate people are the victims in this.
"They are preyed on by the greedy, unscrupulous and people who simply have a wilful disregard for the lives of others."
The UK's Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants called for government action, saying the nation needed "more than empty expressions of shock and sadness from Priti Patel and Boris Johnson".
"Nobody should be in any doubt that the ultimate responsibility for these deaths lies with government policy which has deliberately closed down safe and legal routes into Britain," it said in a statement.
"People move, they always have and they always will. Nobody should have to risk their lives to do so."
BULGARIA INVESTIGATING ORIGIN OF TRUCK
Bulgaria's foreign ministry said it could not confirm at this stage whether the truck had started its journey from the country.
"We are still checking the information, published in the British media and we're contacting the authorities," foreign ministry spokeswoman Tsvetana Krasteva said.
Dan Peters, from a hydraulic maintenance company on the industrial estate where the bodies were found, said it was "terrible" news. He said the industrial estate was made up of courier and logistics companies.
The UK and the Republic of Ireland are not in the European Union's no-borders Schengen zone but have their own historic Common Travel Area, meaning there are no checks on the movement of goods or people between the two.
In Britain's biggest illegal immigrant tragedy in 2000, British customs officials found the bodies of 58 Chinese people crammed into a tomato truck at the southern port of Dover.
In 2014, staff at the Tilbury container port next to Grays heard screaming and banging coming from inside a shipping container. They then found 34 Afghan Sikhs alive inside suffering from severe dehydration, hypothermia and lack of air.
One man was found dead, having passed away during the sea crossing from Belgium.