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Up to 20 Vietnamese people feared among 39 killed in UK container tragedy

Police are continuing to question a number of people over the migrants’ deaths.

The container lorry where 39 people were found dead earlier this week
The container lorry where 39 people were found dead earlier this week
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Oct 26th 2019, 1:26 PM

UP TO 20 Vietnamese citizens are feared among 39 people found dead in a truck in Britain this week, as one of the alleged truck owners denied involvement in the tragedy.

Police in the UK initially said that all of the 31 men and eight women found in a refrigerated lorry in an industrial park in Grays, east of London, on Wednesday were believed to be Chinese nationals.  

However, several Vietnamese families now fear their relatives, who may have been carrying falsified Chinese passports, are among the victims. 

Britain-based community group VietHome said it had received “photos of nearly 20 people reported missing, age 15-45″ from Vietnam, a popular source for smuggled migrants looking to better their lives in the UK.

Nguyen Dinh Gia told AFP that he got a call from his son two weeks ago saying he was planning to go to Britain where he hoped to work in a nail salon.

His 20-year-old son, Nguyen Dinh Luong, had been living in France and said the journey would cost £11,000 pounds (€12,735). 

But Gia received a call several days ago from a Vietnamese man saying “Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened,” he recounted to AFP.

“I fell to the ground when I heard that,” Gia said. ”It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead,” he added.

‘Developing picture’

Essex Police said the nationalities of the deceased was “now a developing picture” amid reports several of those who died may be Vietnamese.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said she would give no more details about the nationalities of the victims until formal identification had taken place.

The BBC said it has been in contact with six Vietnamese families who fear their relatives are among the dead, with some having the smuggling fees repaid.

Relatives of 26-year-old Pham Tra My told the broadcaster they have not been able to contact her since she sent a text on Tuesday night saying she was suffocating.

“I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed,” she wrote.

“I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother.”

Her family said they had paid £30,000 for her to be smuggled into Britain, which has now been repaid.

PA Graphic Source: PA Graphics

Police continuing to question a number of people over the deaths of 39 migrants whose bodies were found inside a lorry in Essex, as six more Vietnamese families believe their relatives may be among the dead.

The driver of the truck, 25-year-old Maurice Robinson, has been is due to appear in court on Monday charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.

A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was detained at Stansted Airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter, Essex Police said.

Officers had earlier arrested a couple, named locally as haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both 38, of Warrington, on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.

In Belgium, police are hunting the driver who delivered the trailer to Zeebrugge, the port it left before arriving in the UK.

A spokesman from the Belgian prosecutor’s office told the PA news agency: “We’re trying to identify the driver.”

He said Belgian authorities were also working to “track the route of the container” and find anyone responsible for “collaborating with the transport”.

“We would like people to be arrested as soon as possible,” he added.

bodies-found-in-lorry-container A vigil is held outside the Home Office in Westminster, London Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Vigils held

The police investigation is Britain’s largest murder probe since the 2005 London suicide bombings.

The suspected Vietnamese victims both come from Ha Tinh, an impoverished province in a part of Vietnam where many of the country’s illegal migrants come from.

Many have their sights set on Britain, where they end up working in nail salons or on cannabis farms, hoping to earn more money.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.

Belgian officials said the trailer arrived at Zeebrugge at 2.49pm on Tuesday and left the port the same day en route to Purfleet.

The trailer arrived at Purfleet at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and was picked up by the cab, known as the tractor, which arrived from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.

The lorry left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am before police were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays at 1.40am.

China has called for joint efforts to counter human smuggling, while vigils have been held in London and Belfast to pay tribute to the victims.

The Vietnamese embassy in London has said some families have contacted them asking about relatives but it is yet to receive any information from police.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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