Bodies in truck container: What is known so far

The truck was found near the main freeway encircling Greater London, but was registered in Bulgaria and had come by ferry from Dublin to pick up the container that had come to England via Belgium.
The truck was found near the main freeway encircling Greater London, but was registered in Bulgaria and had come by ferry from Dublin to pick up the container that had come to England via Belgium.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Thirty-nine people were found dead in a refrigerated truck container about 30km east of London early on Wednesday, and the authorities have said all of the victims are believed to be Chinese citizens.

The truck was found near the main freeway encircling Greater London, but was registered in Bulgaria and had come by ferry from Dublin, driven by a man from Northern Ireland, to pick up the container that had come to England via Belgium. Here is a look at what is known.

Who was in the truck?

The authorities have said that of the 39 people in the truck, 31 were men and eight were women. The identities of the victims remain in question.

The authorities have not released any names. The circumstances surrounding the deaths strongly suggest that the victims were part of a human-trafficking effort turned deadly, but that has not been confirmed.

How did the truck get to England?

The truck's tractor unit and the container arrived in Britain at different ports, according to the authorities. The tractor unit arrived at Holyhead in Wales on a ferry from Dublin on Sunday, while the container was shipped from Zeebrugge, Belgium, and arrived early on Wednesday at the port of Purfleet, not far from where the bodies were later discovered.

The tractor and the container left Purfleet shortly after 1.05am (8.05am Singapore time), and police were called to an industrial park about 30 minutes later by the local ambulance service. The police have not said who called for an ambulance.

 
 
 

It is not known how the container reached Belgium. Nor is it clear whether the 39 victims were inside before it made its way to England, whether they had all travelled together, how they reached the port in Europe or where the truck was headed.

How long until the victims are identified?

The police have said that each of the 39 victims will be subjected to a "full coroner's process" to establish a cause of death, and only then will investigators try to identify them. The process is likely to be further complicated because the victims were probably not carrying identification papers.

How did they die?

That is unknown at this point. If the container unit was turned on, the people inside could have frozen to death because the unit could reach temperatures as low as -25 deg C. If the unit had been turned off, they could have suffocated because there would have been no ventilation. There may also be other factors.

Are there any suspects?

The driver of the truck remains in custody after being arrested on suspicion of murder. Two more people, a man and a woman, both aged 38, have been held on suspicion of manslaughter in northern England, police said.

It is not clear who organised the transport of the victims. It is also not known whether the driver knew what was in the container he was hauling. Such containers sent to Britain from Europe are typically sealed and are not opened until they reach their delivery point.

In addition, the police said three properties in County Armagh, in Northern Ireland, had been searched in connection with the investigation. It is not clear whether they were linked to the driver.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2019, with the headline 'Bodies in truck container: What is known so far'. Print Edition | Subscribe