It has been discovered that the 39 people found dead in a refrigerated trailer in Essex belonged to China. A 25-year-old lorry driver named Mo Robinson was arrested on suspicion of murder and police are continuing to question him. 

The investigating officers have already raided two houses and the National Crime Agency said that it was trying to identify “organized crime groups who may have played a part”. The trailer arrived in Purfleet on the River Thames from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

On Wednesday, after 01:30 BST at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, the bodies of the 38 adults and one teenager were found by ambulance staff. The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 01:05.

According to the police, the tractor unit, the front part of the lorry came from Northern Ireland and picked up the trailer from Purfleet. The village of Laurelvale in County Armagh, where the Robinson family live, was in “complete shock”, said Councillor Paul Berry. 

Berry said he was in contact with Mr. Robinson’s father, who had heard of his son’s arrest on Wednesday through social media. “The local community is hoping that he [Mo Robinson] has been caught up innocently in this matter but that’s in the hands of Essex Police, and we will leave it in their professional hands to try to catch the perpetrators of this,” he said.

On Tuesday, a spokesman stated that the container reached in Zeebrugge at 14:29 and left the port later afternoon before arriving in Purfleet in the early hours of Wednesday. However, he further stated that it was not clear whether the victims were placed in the container in Belgium. 

The lorry was taken to a secure place at Tilbury Docks on Wednesday so the bodies could be “recovered while preserving the dignity of the victims”. Essex Police have stated that the nationalities of the victims were not known immediately and said formal identification “could be a lengthy process.” 

Earlier, the force suggested that the lorry could be from Bulgaria but later stated that the officers believed it entered the UK from Belgium. A Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry spokesman said the truck was registered in the country under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen. 

Shaun Sawyer, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police and the National Police Chiefs Council lead for modern slavery and human trafficking, said while forces had prevented thousands of deaths, “tragically, for 39 people that didn’t work yesterday”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the incident as an “unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking”.

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