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Political leaders tell of their 'horror' over Essex lorry deaths

Seamus Leheny
Seamus Leheny
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Political leaders have said they are "horrified" after 39 people were found dead in a lorry in Essex and a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested as part of a murder investigation.

Speaking in parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all engaged in human trafficking "should be hunted down and brought to justice".

He continued: "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."

The driver has been named locally as Mo Robinson from Portadown in Co Armagh.

Yesterday, it was reported that family members had not heard from him or been told any further details.

It's understood the trailer where the dead were found is designed to refrigerate goods.

Seamus Leheny is Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association. He said drivers would typically not inspect the inside of trailers.

"Drivers would have to check the integrity of their trailer if, for example, they were getting a ferry from the continent," he said.

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Patrick Corrigan

"You do a visual inspection to make sure there's no tears on the curtains, no one has unbuckled any of the curtain sides, if it's locked or sealed, that doors haven't been tampered with. You also check the chassis as sometimes people can climb in underneath."

He added: "Generally, that's all they can do. These trailers coming in from the continent are usually sealed by the exporter for security reasons."

Mr Leheny said high-security ports like Calais will have scanners capable of detecting a heartbeat in the back of a trailer.

"That can help to find out if anyone is hiding in the back of the load. In recent times, people have also managed to access a trailer through the roof and in that way the driver can't see if it's been interfered with."

DUP leader Arlene Foster called the discovery "horrifying news".

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

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said: "This is horrific news - our thoughts and prayers are with these victims."

His party colleague John Stewart MLA, hit out at some of the online reaction to the tragedy.

"Some of the comments relating to the Essex container tragedy are absolutely disgusting and showcase the very worst aspects of social media. It is truly sickening people can be so heartless."

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty NI said: "Truly horrific. We don't know the details yet, but worth noting that most people making such journeys are refugees fleeing war and persecution. Why? Because there are so few safe and lawful routes available."

Addressing that point, the Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK had "to do the right thing as a country," which included making sure those fleeing war zones and conflicts were given asylum "in the right way".

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