The bodies of 39 people have been found in a lorry container in Essex.
The vehicle, registered in Bulgaria, was found shortly before 01:40 BST at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, police said.
Essex Police moved the lorry to a secure location so the bodies inside could be recovered.
The lorry driver, named locally as Mo Robinson, 25, from the Portadown area of County Armagh, Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
Essex Police said the trailer arrived via ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium, into Purfleet on the River Thames.
The ship docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 00:30, the force said.
It is believed the container and lorry then left the port together about 35 minutes later.
Everyone inside the container, 38 adults and one teenager, died, Essex Police said.
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said identifying the victims remained a “number one priority”, but was expected to be a “lengthy process”.
The National Crime Agency said it had sent officers to assist and identify any “organised crime groups who may have played a part”.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said the container appeared to be a refrigerated unit, where temperatures could be as low as -25C.
He described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.
A spokesman for the Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry confirmed the truck was registered in the country.
“The Scania truck was registered in Varna (on the east coast) under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen,” he said.
“Police said that it is highly unlikely that they are Bulgarians,” he added.
Police have appealed for witnesses and anyone with information about the lorry’s route to contact them.
The force said it believed the tractor unit – or front part – of the lorry had come from Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was an “unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking”.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: “I know that the thoughts and prayers of all members will be with those who lost their lives and their loved ones.
“I’m receiving regular updates. The Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened.”
‘Contempt for life’
During PMQs, Ms Doyle-Price said: “To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil. The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Mr Johnson responded saying “all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was an “unbelievable human tragedy”, adding: “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?”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told the Dail that investigations would be undertaken to establish if the lorry had passed through Ireland.
Tricky task of catching the people smugglers
Since the Calais migrant camps were shut three years ago and security measures were increased at Dover and the Channel Tunnel, people smugglers have increasingly moved to other routes.
Asked which ports are being used, the National Crime Agency told me: “All of them.”
More dangerous methods are being used to get human cargo through.
The most common one is being hidden in the back of a lorry, but increasingly commercial shipping containers are being used, sometimes even refrigerated ones of the type seen on the back of the truck in Essex.
Risks are substantial for the migrants, who can pay £10,000 or more for a space on these vehicles.
How many migrants have died in transit?
The number of migrants who die in transit has been recorded by the UN since 2014.
Since then, five bodies of suspected migrants have been found in lorries or containers in the UK:
- 2014: An Afghan migrant was found dead at Tilbury Docks, Essex. He was in a shipping container, with 34 Afghans who survived
- 2015: Two migrants were found dead in a wooden crate in a warehouse in Branston, Staffordshire. The crate had been sent from Italy
- 2016: An 18-year-old migrant was crushed while clinging to the underside of a lorry in Banbury, Oxfordshire
- 2016: A body was found in the back of a lorry in Kent, which had travelled from France
Data was not collected in the same way before the migrant crisis began in 2014, but such deaths are not new.
In 2000, 58 Chinese migrants were found suffocated to death in a lorry at Dover.
In 2015, the bodies of 71 people were found in an abandoned lorry on an Austrian motorway. Police suspected the vehicle was part of a Bulgarian-Hungarian human trafficking operation.
Essex Police has set up a casualty bureau for anyone concerned about relatives to call.
The British Red Cross has confirmed staff and volunteers were helping “those dealing with this terrible tragedy”.
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