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Victims found dead in truck in UK were Chinese nationals

By Bo Leung in London | | Updated: 2019-10-24 17:54

The 39 people found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex, UK on Wednesday were all Chinese citizens, British police have confirmed.

The Chinese embassy in the UK said: "We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex, England. We are in close contact with the British police to seek clarification and confirmation of the relevant reports."

The victims were discovered at an industrial estate at Grays in Southeast England. Officers are continuing to question a 25-year-old lorry driver from Northern Ireland, who was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Essex Police believe the tractor unit, or front part of the lorry, had entered the UK via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.

The lorry then collected the trailer, which is believed to have arrived from Zeebrugge in Belgium, at the port of Purfleet in Essex at around 12:30am on Wednesday. Police believe that cab and trailer left Purfleet port shortly after 1:05am.

The bodies were discovered by ambulance staff at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, a town 40 kilometers east of London, and local police were alerted before 1:40am.

Essex Police said in a statement, "We have since confirmed that eight of the deceased are women and 31 are men and all are believed to be Chinese nationals. We arrested a man on suspicion of murder, who remains in custody", adding that the incident has "led to the largest murder investigation in our force's history".

The force said one victim previously thought to be a teenager was a young adult woman.

This is the UK's worst such tragedy since the bodies of 58 Chinese people were found in a container in Dover, Kent, in 2000.

Officers have searched three addresses in County Armagh in Northern Ireland in connection with the investigations.

Media reports suggested the refrigeration unit may have been on and the migrants could have frozen to death in temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius.

The lorry has since been moved from the industrial park as investigations continue and a post-mortem examination will take place to establish a cause of death.

"This will be a substantial operation and, at this stage, we cannot estimate how long these procedures will take,"said Essex Police. "The process will be complex and lengthy, as well as incredibly challenging for all those involved, but we will not stop until we get answers for the loved ones of the who have sadly died."

The National Crime Agency said it was assisting the investigation and working to "urgently identify and take action against any organized crime groups who have played a role in causing these deaths".

The Belgian federal prosecutor said in a statement on Thursday that it had opened an inquiry into the deaths of the 39 people.

"The investigation will focus on the organizers of and all other parties involved in this transport," the prosecutor said.

Maurice Wren, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "This is truly tragic news, but depressingly predictable and avoidable news. If you deny people safe and regular travel routes to find safety, you are leaving them with no choice but to risk their lives on utterly perilous journeys and in the hands of criminal gangs. These gangs are a symptom of a much deeper problem – namely governments' failure to provide safety to those who desperately need it."

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