Belfast Telegraph

Harrowing final words of young woman feared dead in lorry deaths tragedy

Vietnamese woman Pham Thi Tra Thomas is feared to be among the dead.
Vietnamese woman Pham Thi Tra Thomas is feared to be among the dead.
Missing: Nguyen Dinh Luong (20)
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills speaks to the media at Grays Police Station in Essex

By Eimear McGovern

A Vietnamese woman feared to be among the 39 migrants found dead in the back of a lorry sent a text to her mother telling her that she was dying.

The harrowing message emerged as a 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland became the fourth person to be arrested over the tragedy.

He was held at Stansted airport yesterday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.

It comes as a man and a woman, both aged 38 and originally from the Republic, were arrested at their home in Warrington, Cheshire, on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.

It is understood the male has lived in England for a number of years. His family in Ireland declined to comment on his arrest yesterday.

The truck driver, Mo Robinson (25) from Co Armagh, was still in custody last night after being held on suspicion of murder.

The bodies of eight women and 31 men were discovered in a refrigerated trailer in Grays, Essex, in the early hours of Wednesday.

The BBC reported that six Vietnamese families fear their relatives are among the victims.

Yesterday a harrowing text message emerged from a Vietnamese woman who told her mother: "I love you so much! I'm dying because I can't breathe."

The message was sent by Pham Thi Tra My (26) to a friend, to allow a final and heartbreaking farewell to her mother.

It was sent from an account named 'daughter' and was received in Vietnam at 4.28am on Wednesday, 10.28pm UK time - just four hours before the alarm was raised in Essex when the bodies were found inside the truck refrigeration unit.

"I'm sorry mum. My journey abroad hasn't succeeded," the text read. "Mum, I love you so much! I'm dying because I can't breathe... I'm from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam... I am sorry mum."

The account hasn't been accessed by Tra My since, adding to the concern she is among the dead. Her brother Pham Ngoc Tuan told the BBC her journey began on October 3. She had instructed her family not to contact her as "the organisers" didn't allow her to receive calls.

"She flew to China and stayed there for a couple of days, then left for France," he said.

"She called us when she reached each destination. The first attempt she made to cross the border to the UK was October 19 but she got caught and turned back. I don't know for sure from which port," he added.

"My sister went missing on 23 October on the way from Vietnam to the UK and we couldn't contact her. We are concerned she may be in that trailer. We are asking the British police to help investigate so that my sister can be returned to the family."

Human rights activist Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, based in Vietnam, wrote on Twitter: "Her family is looking for help to identify their daughter among 39 people.

"Please help to find connection…"

Ms Nghiem made a direct appeal on Twitter to the British ambassador to Vietnam, Gareth Ward, and to various journalists in the UK.

The Vietnamese embassy in London has contacted police regarding the missing Vietnamese woman after it had been contacted by her family.

The BBC reported Tra My's family had to pay almost €35,000 to traffickers for her journey to the UK. A family acquaintance told The Guardian the family remortgaged their home to pay the sum. The smugglers have returned money to some families, the BBC reported.

The 39 bodies were found in a truck container at an industrial estate in Essex at 1.40am, having arrived in the UK about an hour-and-a-half earlier after being shipped from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

Relatives of Nguyen Dinh Luong (20) have also said they fear he is among the 39 victims.

There are fears at least two more Vietnamese nationals who are missing - a 26-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman - are among the dead.

The brother of the 19-year-old told the BBC his sister called him at 7:20am Belgian local time on Tuesday, stating she was getting into a container and was turning off her phone to avoid being caught.

He had not heard from her since but said a people smuggler returned money to the family overnight.

The man said the family of the 26-year-old who she was travelling with also received money back.

An international investigation is under way as post-mortem examinations are due to begin on the bodies found in the refrigerated trailer in Grays in the early hours of Wednesday.

A convoy of funeral directors' vehicles entered the Port of Tilbury to collect the bodies of the 39 people to transport them to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

Initially, it was thought that the victims of the tragedy were Chinese nationals.

However, Essex police had said that the "picture may change regarding identification" as the investigation continues.

Detectives have urged anyone fearing their loved ones may have been in the lorry to get in touch.

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