Belfast Telegraph

Police raid luxury Northern Ireland home of lorry deaths suspect

Three properties were searched by police
Three properties were searched by police
Floral tributes at the industrial park in Essex where the bodies were found
Three properties were searched by police
Three properties were searched by police
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

The Markethill home of the lorry driver arrested on suspicion of the murder of 39 Chinese nationals was searched by the PSNI on Wednesday night.

Detectives investigating the deaths of the eight women and 31 men in the back of the refrigerated container in Essex were yesterday given an extra 24 hours to question Mo Robinson (25), who is originally from the Co Armagh village of Laurelvale, just outside Portadown.

Two other properties in Co Armagh were also raided on Wednesday evening, including the home of Mr Robinson's parents in Laurelvale and premises in Armagh City area.

Police last night started the process of moving the bodies from the lorry to a mortuary. The first 11 were being transported under police escort by private ambulance from the Port of Tilbury to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, having left the port at 7.41pm, Essex Police said.

Laurelvale was quiet yesterday afternoon following the media frenzy that had taken over the residential estate the previous day.

The home of Mr Robinson's parents remained vacant after they flew to England to support their son, while neighbours were not prepared to comment.

The £160,000 property belonging to Mr Robinson is a major focus of the investigation into the deaths. The home was only recently sold to the soon-to-be-father and his partner.

Essex Police confirmed yesterday that the trailer containing the bodies arrived at Purfleet from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge at around 12.30am on Wednesday.

The front section, known as the tractor, came from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in north Wales on Sunday.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am and officers were called around 30 minutes later by ambulance staff who were called to Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue, Grays.

Essex Police added that the 39 deaths made it the force's largest murder investigation.

It is the biggest UK case since the London bombings in July 2005.

A spokesman for Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) confirmed to RTE News that it owns the refrigerated trailer. It was leased on October 15 from GTR's yard in Co Monaghan at a rate of €275 per week.

Its directors said the company was "entirely unaware" of what the trailer was to be used for.

Defending his "best friend" Mr Robinson, Francie Donnelly posted on Facebook yesterday: "It has made me feel physically sick to my stomach at some of the comments and posts people are putting up about Mo. This man is my best friend and hasn't got one bad bone in his body... Head up big lad and we'll see you very soon."

His uncle Keith thanked supporters, adding: "Mo is a top lad and the truth will out soon enough. He hasn't one bad bone in his body and I've no doubts whatsoever of his innocence."

Meanwhile, independent councillor Paul Berry, who personally knows the Robinson family, said the village and surrounding area was still in "complete shock" at the news coming from England.

Mr Berry was in contact with Mr Robinson's father, Mark, on Wednesday and he said that he only learned of his son's arrest through social media.

"He had said he had been getting messages via people on social media on what was happening and at that stage it was not confirmed to him or his family that his son had been arrested," said the councillor.

"In the local area the feeling is one of complete shock and hope this is not a true story in terms of his involvement."

Mr Berry said the family were very well respected in the area and that the community is hoping that Mr Robinson is an innocent party.

The councillor said the family had been left upset by the "unwelcome spotlight" the incident had shone on them. "It was very distressing for the family as they just felt they were captive in their own home," he added.

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