At least three among those dead in trailer may have come from Vietnam

British Police forensics officers work on a lorry, found to be containing 39 dead bodies, at Waterglade Industrial Park in London, on Oct 23, 2019.
British Police forensics officers work on a lorry, found to be containing 39 dead bodies, at Waterglade Industrial Park in London, on Oct 23, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • At least three of the 39 people found dead in the back of a truck near London might have originally come from Vietnam, according to a Vietnamese human rights activist and the BBC.

Ms Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a text message to her mother saying she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, said Ms Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam.

"It was told on the news that all 39 people were Chinese, but Tra My's family is trying to verify if their daughter was among them as the last dying text from her was coincidentally in time," she wrote on Twitter. "Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck."

Separately, the BBC reported that it knew of three Vietnamese people, including Ms Tra My, whose relatives were worried they may have been on the trailer. Initial reports by police had suggested all the victims were believed to be Chinese.

Essex police declined to comment when approached by The Guardian.

In a separate statement yesterday, the police said: "As our investigations continue, the picture may change regarding identification."

Ms Nghiem published a screenshot of Ms Tra My's text message, which indicated that it was sent at 4.28am on Wednesday Vietnam time (2128 GMT on Tuesday).

The bodies were found in the truck container at an industrial estate near London at 1.40am British time (0040 GMT), having arrived in Britain about 11/2 hours earlier after being shipped from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

"I am sorry, mum. My path to abroad doesn't succeed. Mum, I love you so much! I am dying because I can't breathe... I am from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam ... I am sorry, mum," the message said, according to Ms Nghiem.

The BBC reported that the other Vietnamese who were believed to have been in the trailer were a 26-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman. The woman's brother said she had called him at 7.20am Belgian time on Tuesday, saying that she was getting into a container and was turning off her phone to avoid detection.

 
 

He has not heard from her since. However, a people smuggler returned the money to the family overnight, and the family of the 26-year-old she was travelling with also received the money back.

British police said yesterday that they have arrested two more people on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people, Agence France-Presse reported.

After detaining a 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland at the scene on suspicion of murder, Essex police confirmed two more arrests yesterday.

A man and a woman, both aged 38 and from Warrington in Cheshire, north-west England, "have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter", the police said.

The first autopsies were to take place yesterday as investigators attempt to establish how they died, before work begins on trying to identify the victims.

Detectives have also searched three addresses in Northern Ireland. The investigation is Britain's largest murder probe since the 2005 London suicide bombings.

Questions have been raised about when the victims entered the refrigerated trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25 deg C. If the unit had been turned off, they may have suffocated because there would have been no ventilation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2019, with the headline 'At least three among those dead in trailer may have come from Vietnam'. Print Edition | Subscribe