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Essex container deaths: PSNI carry out searches at properties linked to NI truck driver Mo Robinson

  • 38 adults and one teenager dead
  • 25-year-old Portadown man held
  • Trailer travelled from Zeebruge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex
  • Two searches carried out at properties in Co Armagh

By Eimear McGovern and Mark Edwards

The PSNI has carried out searches at two properties in Co Armagh which are linked to the Northern Ireland man arrested following the discovery of 39 bodies in the back of a lorry in Essex.

25-year-old Mo Robinson from Portadown is undergoing questioning following the discovery of the bodies, which were found inside a Bulgarian-registered lorry in an industrial estate in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

It was confirmed he remains in police custody shortly before 9.30pm on Wednesday night.

Essex police have said the trailer carrying the bodies of 39 people which was originally believed to have travelled from Northern Ireland is now believed to have travelled from Belgium.

One teenager is thought to be among the dead.

The PSNI is assisting the Essex Police with their investigation.

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Driver

In a 4pm update Essex police said the trailer came from Zeebrugge  in Belgium to Purfleet, Essex and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12.30am.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills speaks to the media at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate. Pic Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills speaks to the media at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate. Pic Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. PA Photo. Picture date: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

They said the tractor unit originated from Northern Ireland and it along with the trailer left the port shortly after 1.05am.

It has now been driven away with a police escort for forensic examination.

Gardai said they were satisfied no one involved had been trafficked through the Republic.

The Bulgarian foreign ministry said the truck was registered in Bulgaria by a company owned by an Irish woman.

"The Scania truck was registered in Varna (on the east coast) under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen," he said.

"Police said that it is highly unlikely that they are Bulgarians," he added.

Police cordon at the road leading to the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Police cordon at the road leading to the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said identifying the victims remained a "number one priority" and their investigation would be a lengthy process.

The National Crime Agency has sent officers to assist and identify any "organised crime groups who may have played a part".

Belfast Harbour said it was aware of the incident but had not been asked to assist the investigation. A spokesman said they were ready to provide any assistance should it be required.

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Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A spokesman for the Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry confirmed the truck was registered in the country.

Horrifying

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the incident was "horrifying"

Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

"Thinking of those who have impacted and their families during such a distressing time," she tweeted.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "appalled" by the tragic incident and was in constant contact with police.

"My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives and their loved ones," he said.

Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Speaking later in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister added: "It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those emergency services as they were asked to open that container and to expose the appalling crime that had taken place."

"All such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice," he said.

Aerial footage from the scene shows forensic officers walking in and out of the lorry which is parked on Eastern Avenue opposite Pirtek and Hydraquip.

Two tents have been erected - one in front of the lorry and one behind it with police vehicles on either side.

Police have said they will move the vehicle to a secure location in order to continue their investigation.

Paige Wade was driving past the industrial park at 4.15am on her way home from work.

Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Police activity at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container on the industrial estate. Aaron Chown/PA Wire

"I knew it was serious because of how many police cars and ambulances were there, but the police had parked their cars across the whole access of the road so you couldn't see anything," she said.

"There's always lorries around there as they park up there for the night, I couldn't say whether I did or didn't see the actual lorry in question."

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights director, described the incident as "heartbreaking and horrifying".

"People who are forced to take dangerous and sometimes fatal passages to reach the UK often do so because current immigration policies and practices deny them safe and legal options," he said.

"As the police investigation continues, our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those affected by this awful tragedy."

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said the tragedy highlighted the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries.

"It's highly unlikely that if this vehicle has come from Europe that it's been physically checked," he said.

"Because of the migrant issue at Dover and Calais, you've got far more checks."

Mr Burnett said the container appeared to be a refrigerated unit, where temperatures can be as low as -25C - and described conditions for anyone inside as "absolutely horrendous".

Verona Murphy, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, says drivers and staff in the industry are aghast at the news from Essex.

"I'm flabbergasted and devastated, 39 people are dead within this industry for whatever reason, is just devastating," she said.

"Devastating for their families, and although we have very little information on this, from our point of view we will be advising our drivers for the need for vigilance, for carrying out their own checks.

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Aaron Chown/PA Wire

"We don't know if this is orchestrated behaviour but we are determined to be sure that all our members are following guidelines to avoid anything of this nature, like protecting themselves and equipment, but most of all mindful of the protection of human life.

"There is total devastation among the industry that this has happened and no-one would treat this with complacency."

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