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U.K. police arrest 2 more after 39 bodies found in truck trailer

Police investigating the deaths of 39 people believed to be Chinese nationals who were found in a truck and trailer near London said they arrested two more people on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking, and continued to quiz the driver as a murder suspect.

Total arrested now 3 as police begin post-mortem examinations to ID victims

Police are seen at the scene where 39 bodies were discovered inside of a truck container in Grays, England, on Wednesday. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Police investigating the deaths of 39 people believed to be Chinese nationals who were found in a truck and trailer near London said they arrested two more people on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking, and continued to quiz the driver as a murder suspect.

As China called on Britain to seek "severe punishment" for those involved in the deaths, police said they had detained a man and a woman, both 38, in Warrington, about 30 kilometres east of Liverpool, on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter.

The 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland remains in custody after being arrested following the grim discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

He has not been formally identified. Detectives will decide in the coming days whether to charge him with an offence, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

Late on Thursday, British authorities moved 11 of the victims — 31 men and eight women — to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near to the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays about 30 kilometres east of London where the bodies were found.

Post-mortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while forensic experts sought to identify the deceased. Police have warned this would be a lengthy process.

Police said the truck and trailer took separate circuitous journeys before ending up on the grounds of the industrial park.

They believe the container went from the North Sea port of Zeebrugge in Belgium to the English town of Purfleet, about 40 kilometres east of London, where it arrived Wednesday morning.

The truck cab, which is registered in Bulgaria to a company owned by an Irish woman, is believed to have travelled from Northern Ireland to Dublin, where it caught a ferry to Wales, then drove across Britain to pick up the container.

'Severely punish criminals involved' 

The Chinese Embassy in London said it had sent a team to Essex, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said police had not yet been able to verify the nationalities of the deceased.

"We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case," she told a daily news briefing.

Forensic experts began post-mortem examinations Friday to identify the deceased. Police are warning this will be a lengthy process. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland.

The tragedy recalls the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants who suffocated in a truck in Dover, England, in 2000 after a months-long journey from China's southern Fujian province. They were found stowed with a cargo of tomatoes after a ferry ride from Zeebrugge, the same Belgian port that featured in the latest tragedy.

In February 2004, 21 Chinese migrants — also from Fujian — who were working as shellfish pickers in Britain, drowned when they were caught by treacherous tides in Morecambe Bay in northwest England.

China's Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.

"Such a serious humanitarian disaster occurred under the eyes of the British and Europeans," the newspaper said.

"Britain and the related European countries have not met their responsibility for protecting these people from dying in such a manner."

 

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