Belfast Telegraph

Essex lorry deaths: Northern Ireland man among three people released on bail

The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside (Aaron Chown/PA)
The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside (Aaron Chown/PA)

A 46-year-old man from Northern Ireland arrested in connection with the discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry trailer in Essex has been released on bail.

He was arrested at Stansted airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.

Essex Police said he has been released on bail until November 13.

Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both aged 38 and originally from the Republic of Ireland have also been released.

They were arrested at their home in Warrington, Cheshire, on Friday on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.

The couple have been released on bail until November 11.

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Mo Robinson

On Saturday lorry driver Maurice 'Mo' Robinson was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old, of Laurel Drive, Craigavon is also charged with conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.

He is due to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates' Court on Monday.

On Saturday morning Gardai arrested 23-year-old Eamon Harrison at Dublin Port.

Essex Police have confirmed he is a "person of interest" in their investigation.

"We are liaising with the Garda via telephone as this man is currently held outside the jurisdiction of the law of England and Wales," a spokesperson said.

Mr Harrison from Mayobridge, Co Down appeared at Dublin District Court on Saturday on unrelated assault and criminal damage charges.

He was refused bail and remanded in custody until October 30.

During mass at Newry Cathedral on Sunday Archbishop Eamon Martin offered prayers for those who lost their lives.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland said that the "grim discovery has shocked us all".

"I encourage everyone to pray for those who have perished, for their loved ones, for all those caught up in this gruesome situation and for those who are called to respond," Archbishop Martin said. 

"Pray that the identities of the dead can be quickly established and that all those responsible be stopped and brought to justice."

The family of a young Vietnamese woman thought to be among the 39 victims said she dismissed their pleas not to travel.

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Vietnamese woman Pham Thi Tra Thomas is feared to be among the dead.

Pham Tra My, 26, has not been in contact with her family since sending a final text message home on Tuesday saying she could not breathe.

Police later found the bodies of eight women and 31 men in the refrigerated trailer of a lorry on an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, in the early hours of Wednesday.

Relatives of Ms Tra My told the BBC they have not been able to contact her since she sent a text on Tuesday night saying she was suffocating.

"I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed," she wrote.

"I am dying, I can't breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother."

Ms Tra My is reported to have paid a charge of about £30,000 to people smugglers in order to be brought into the UK illegally.

Her father, Pham Van Thin, told Sky News: "We tried to talk her out of it because it would be a very difficult journey for her as a girl.

"But she said: 'If I don't go, the family would stay in a very difficult situation because of the big debt'.

"So she took a risk and decided to go, and we had to agree."

He added: "We all have been in shock. I cannot explain our pain and devastating feeling. We were all very devastated and sad."

He told CNN that smugglers said the crossing was "a safe route" and that people would go by aeroplane or car.

"If I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go," the father said.

The mother and a sister of 19-year-old Bui Thi Nhung set up an altar in the village of Yen Thanh in north-central Vietnam after a family friend in the UK told them she had died after paying thousands of pounds in the hope of finding work in a nail bar.

Another Vietnamese father, Nguyen Dinh Gia, fears his 20-year-old son, Nguyen Dinh Luong, was among the victims.

The Vietnamese Embassy in London has started a hotline while the ambassador to the UK, Tran Ngoc An, spoke to Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday night before meeting investigators from the National Crime Agency and Essex Police.

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(PA Graphics)

All of the victims have since been moved from the vehicle in Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.

Essex Police are now working on the largest mass fatality victim identification process in its history, having previously said all were from China.

Investigators will look at tattoos, scars and belongings, including jewellery and clothing, with each of the victims said to have had some kind of bag.

More than 500 exhibits have been collected, including mobile phones, which will be downloaded and interrogated for any messages that could give clues to the identity of the victims or how they came to be in the back of the trailer.

Detectives are investigating a "wider conspiracy" after claims surfaced that the lorry could have been part of a convoy of three carrying around 100 people.

In Belgium, police are hunting the driver who delivered the trailer to Zeebrugge, the port it left before arriving in the UK.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C (minus 13F) if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.

Additional reporting by PA

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