Essex lorry deaths: Post mortem examinations to start on 39 bodies

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Media captionThirty nine bodies were found in the trailer container

Post-mortem examinations are due to be carried out on some of the 39 people found dead in a lorry in Essex.

Eleven of the victims were taken by ambulance from the Port of Tilbury to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford on Thursday evening.

Police believe the eight women and 31 men in the refrigerated unit were Chinese.

Meanwhile, detectives have been granted extra time to hold lorry driver Mo Robinson, 25, on suspicion of murder.

The private ambulance carrying the bodies left the port at 19:41 BST under police escort.

A spokesperson for Essex Police said recovering all the bodies would take time and the dignity of the victims was its primary concern.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption The lorry driver has been named locally as Mo Robinson, from County Armagh

The Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said he had sent a team to Essex to help police verify the identity of the victims. He added that their nationality was yet to be confirmed.

Three properties in Northern Ireland have been raided and the National Crime Agency is working to establish if “organised crime groups” were involved.

Police believe the tractor unit – the front part of the lorry – had entered the country via Holyhead in north Wales on Sunday, having travelled from Dublin.

The trailer arrived in Purfleet on the River Thames from Zeebrugge in Belgium at 00:30 BST on Wednesday.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 01:05 the same day.

Ambulance staff discovered the bodies in the container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays about 30 minutes later, just after 01:30.

Dr Richard Shepherd, one of the UK’s leading forensic pathologists, said post mortem examinations on the 39 victims would be a “very slow, organised process”.

“It is a meticulous examination starting with looking externally,” he said.

“What clothes were they wearing? Is there any jewellery that might identify them? Are there any documents? Are there passports?

Dr Shepherd said pathologists would also be searching for clues about how the victims entered the refrigerated unit.

“Have these people been tortured? Have they been sexually assaulted? Have they been beaten and forced in?”

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Media captionCCTV shows the lorry arriving at the industrial park

Essex Police said the victims were all “believed to be Chinese nationals”.

China’s ambassador to the UK, Mr Liu, tweeted: “The Chinese Embassy has sent a team led by the minister-counsellor in charge of consular affairs to Essex, England.

“They have met with the local police, who said that they are verifying the identity of the 39 deceased, whose nationality still cannot be confirmed.”

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Image caption Campaigners attend a vigil outside the Home Office

The deaths follow warnings from the National Crime Agency and Border Force about the increased risk of people-smuggling using quieter ports such as Purfleet and routes through Belgium.

It has also emerged the Home Office was warned two years ago that Border Force had staffing problems at east coast ports – including Purfleet, where the container containing the 39 Chinese nationals docked.

An inspection report in July 2017 from David Bolt, The Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration, said that although Border Force was coping, it was “stretched”.

In some instances, he said it was ” too thinly” stretched.

The chief inspector also criticised the lack of strategic management by Border Force of its relationships with the companies who own and run the ports, the BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent, Danny Shaw, reports.

Global Trailer Rentals Ltd confirmed to RTE News that it owned the trailer and said it had leased it on 15 October.

The firm said it had given Essex Police the details of the person and company they had leased it to.

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