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Essex lorry deaths: Police begin process of moving bodies

  • Police begin process of moving bodies
  • Lorry driver from Portadown
  • Three properties searched in Co Armagh
  • Work continues on identifying victims, who were Chinese nationals
Floral tributes at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Floral tributes at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

By Eimear McGovern and Mark Edwards

Police have begun the process of moving the bodies of 39 Chinese nationals found dead in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Essex.

Eleven victims were taken by private ambulance from the Port of Tilbury to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford after leaving the port shortly before 8pm.

Police will now begin the process of post-mortem examinations. A spokesperson said recovering all the bodies would take time and the dignity of the victims was their primary concern.

Detectives were granted an additional 24 hours to question the driver Mo Robinson (25) on suspicion of murdering the eight women and 31 men.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Co Monaghan-based Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) has confirmed that it owns the refrigerated trailer in which the Chinese nationals were found dead.

The spokesperson said it was unaware that the trailer was to be used in the manner in which it appears to have been.

GTR has been in contact with police in Essex from early on Wednesday after it became aware that one of its trailers had been involved in this incident, they said.

Police have been provided with details of the arrangement under which the trailer was leased, the spokesman said. He also confirmed that GTR’s trailers are fitted with tracking devices and the company is happy to release all this information to police upon request.

The PSNI searched three addresses in Northern Ireland, all thought to be linked to Mr Robinson, on Wednesday night. The National Crime Agency is working to establish if "organised crime groups" were involved.

Police had previously reported that one of the victims was a teenager, however, it has now been confirmed she was a young adult woman.

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Mo Robinson

Essex Police said it was the force's largest every murder investigation.

A police statement said: "Throughout yesterday, our detectives worked with partners to conduct initial enquiries into these tragic deaths and we continue to work diligently to piece together the circumstances of this horrific event, which has led to the largest murder investigation in our force’s history.

"Our work continues today, and for the foreseeable future, to be focused on providing the victims and their loved ones with an investigation that is filled with dignity, compassion and respect for those who have died."

Essex police said the trailer containing the victims arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday and the front section to which it was attached, known as the tractor unit, came from Northern Ireland. Both left the port shortly after 1.05am.

The tractor unit involved in the incident left Dublin Port for Holyhead on Sunday.

The Irish Department of Justice and Equality said it is aware of the "tragic reports" from England, but said the container itself did not pass through Ireland.

"It is understood that the container was collected in the United Kingdom by a truck cab which had come from Ireland," a spokesperson said.

"Garda Síochána and the Irish authorities remain willing to assist in any further investigations in regard to the matter."

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Messages left by Superintendent Craig Saunders and Chief Inspector Claire Talbot in the Book of Condolence (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Meanwhile, a friend of Mr Robinson said: "Mo is from the nicest family you could meet. I’m telling you now, he wouldn’t have known those people were in the back."

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The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaves Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, heading towards Tilbury Docks under police escort

"When he opened the container up and saw all the dead bodies, he was absolutely horrified - as anyone would be."

Councillor Paul Berry said the village of Laurelvale, where the Robinson family live, was in "complete shock".

Mr Berry, who has been in contact with Mr Robinson's father several times, said he 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 independent representative.

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A Property near Markethill as Police raid two houses in Co Armagh in Northern Ireland on Wednesday evening. Pic Colm Lenaghan /Pacemaker

"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, who knows the father well, said the family were "very well respected" in the area.

"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 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 said.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am on Wednesday and officers were called around 30 minutes later after ambulance staff made the grim discovery at Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue in nearby Grays.

The lorry cab is owned by a company based in Co Monaghan but appears to have been registered in Bulgaria.

This afternoon, Superintendent Craig Saunders and Chief Inspector Claire Talbot from Essex Police paid their respects to the victims with members of Thurrock Council by signing the open book of condolence at the civic office in Grays.

Eric Van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, said that Brussels had started an investigation into the incident.

He added: "We have no idea at the moment how long the lorry spent in Belgium, it could be hours or days, we just don't know."

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The village of Laurelvale near Portadown, where it is believed Mo Robinson lived with his parents

The deaths follow warnings from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Border Force of the increased risk of people-smuggling via Belgium and into quieter ports such as Purfleet.

The NCA previously said it had a "greater focus" on rising smuggler numbers in Belgium after the closure of a migrant camp, and a Border Force assessment highlighted Zeebrugge as being among "key ports of embarkation for clandestine arrivals".

 

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