GRAYS, England (Reuters) – Police investigating the deaths of 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, found in a truck near London said they had arrested two people on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking and continued to quiz the driver as a murder suspect.
Vehicles of a funeral home arrive at the Port of Tilbury where the bodies of immigrants are being held by authorities, following their discovery in a lorry in Essex on Wednesday morning, in Tilbury, Essex, Britain October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
As China called on Britain to seek “severe punishment” for those involved in the deaths, police said they had detained a man and a woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter
The 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland remains in custody after being arrested following the grim discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offence, release him or ask a court for more time to quiz him.
Late on Thursday, British authorities moved 11 of the victims – 31 men and eight women – to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near to the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.
Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased, which police warned would be a lengthy process.
The Chinese Embassy in London said it had sent a team to Essex, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said police had not yet been able to verify the nationalities of the deceased.
“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” she told a daily news briefing.
For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.
China’s Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; writing by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge