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The lorry behind a police cordon at the Waterglade Industrial Park. PA Images
people smuggling

Essex container tragedy: Police believe lorry and container entered UK separately

39 people were found dead this morning in a lorry container that entered the UK.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Oct 2019

THE BULGARIAN FOREIGN Ministry has this afternoon confirmed that the lorry at the centre of the Essex container tragedy is owned by an Irish citizen and registered in the Varna region of Bulgaria. 

In a statement this afternoon, the ministry said that it is working with British police in relation to the discovery of the bodies of 39 people in the trailer of the lorry this morning. They added that from the initial description of the deceased, it is unlikely that they are Bulgarian citizens.

A 25-year-old-man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery, which was made last night in an industrial estate in Essex. 

The discovery was made in Waterglade Industrial Park with Essex Police saying that the lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the UK at Holyhead on Saturday 19 October.

The two locations are on opposites sides of the UK and are approximately 5-6 hours driving time apart.  

It was originally reported that the whole lorry – tractor and trailer – had travelled into the country through Holyhead from Northern Ireland.

In a statement this evening, Essex police said they now believe the trailer part of the lorry where the bodies were discovered travelled separately by vessel direct from Zebrugge in Belgium into Purfleet in England. 

“After further enquiries, we now believe that the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge into Purfleet, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12:30am this morning. The tractor unit of the lorry is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland,” police said in a statement.

Police are working on the assumption that the tractor and trailer connected and left the port shortly after 1.05am. Officers were called around 30 minutes later after ambulance staff made the grim discovery at Waterglade Industrial Park in Eastern Avenue in nearby Grays.

Police earlier said that tracking the route of the lorry “will be a key line of inquiry” amid concerns it may have made its way to Britain by avoiding stringent monitoring of people smuggling in Calais and Dover.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the UK’s Road Haulage Association, said the tragedy “highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries”.


Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan earlier confirmed that gardaí are assisting with the investigation and gardaí have said they will “provide every assistance possible”. / YouTube

The registration of the lorry is also currently being investigated. It is believed that the lorry travelled frequently between Dublin and Holyhead. 

The case was raised in the Dáil this afternoon with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar describing it as “a real terrible human tragedy”.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary TD called it “an unspeakable tragedy” and added that TDs may have to speak about it again if an Irish link is established.

“It is a real terrible human tragedy and we will carry out any investigation if it is established that the truck did pass through Ireland,” Varadkar said. 

- With reporting by Cónal Thomas, Garreth MacNamee and Press Association

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