All 39 migrants found dead in a truck trailer in Essex last month have been identified as Vietnamese their families informed, it was confirmed on Thursday, in a significant step forward in one of the UK’s biggest mass-death investigations.
Vietnam’s embassy in London announced all the dead were its country’s citizens in a statement shortly after Essex Police, the force in charge of the investigation, said it had completed identification of all the deceased, without disclosing any names.
A number of families in Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces in central Vietnam have said they believe family members were in the trailer that was discovered on the Waterglade Industrial Park near Grays in the early hours of October 23. The region has been one of the main sources of people travelling clandestinely to the UK via smuggling networks, especially since an environmental disaster in 2016 devastated the area’s fishing industry.
The trailer had arrived by ferry from Zeebrugge, in Belgium, docking at Purfleet near the industrial park shortly before the discovery.
“The Embassy of Vietnam in London is in deep sorrow over the death of 39 Vietnamese at Essex on the 23 October 2019,” the embassy said. “Once again, we would like to convey our profound condolences and sympathy to the bereaved families.”
Essex Police had earlier said that Caroline Beasley-Murray, the coroner in the case, had formally identified all the victims and that the families concerned had been notified.
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith, in charge of the case, called the identification “an important step in the investigation”.
“It is only right that we provide an opportunity for family members to take in the news confirming the death of their loved ones before releasing any further information,” Mr Smith said.
Essex Police had previously said they thought the dead were from Vietnam but that identification was not complete. The force initially identified the victims as Chinese nationals before disclosures from relatives made it clear that was incorrect.
The driver found with the truck, Mo Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, along with charges of conspiracy to traffic people and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration. The Crown Prosecution Service is seeking the extradition of Eamonn Harrison, 22, also from Northern Ireland, from the Irish Republic to face similar charges.
The identification follows two incidents on Wednesday in which a total of 31 migrants were found in two trucks, one in the UK and the other boarding a UK-bound ferry.
Wiltshire Police said they found 15 people at 8.30pm in a truck on the A350 road near Chippenham. They arrested the men found in the truck, all aged between 16 and 30, on suspicion of entering the UK illegally. They arrested the driver, a man in his 50s from Ireland, on suspicion of assisting illegal entry to the UK. The force said on Thursday it was handing investigation of the case to the Home Office.
Earlier in the day, the Netherlands’ military police, who patrol the country’s borders, said they had found 16 people in the back of a truck carrying auto parts to the UK at the port of Ijmuiden. They arrested the vehicle’s driver, a 45-year-old man from Turkey, on suspicion of people smuggling.