Detectives are desperately working to identify 39 bodies found in the back of a truck in the UK, in what is the largest murder investigation in Britain’s history.
The 38 adults and a teen were found dead inside a refrigerated container in an industrial estate in Essex, east of London, after an anonymous call to emergency services.
The truck driver, 25-year-old Mo Robinson from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder. UK politicians have speculated the tragedy could be linked to human-trafficking gangs that operate out of Bulgaria, while links to Ireland have also been uncovered.
Information provided by authorities in Bulgaria could be a lead UK police need in the hunt for the suspected people smugglers behind the deaths.
Bulgaria’s foreign ministry has tracked the owner and some of the known movements of the truck. It was registered in Bulgaria by an Irishwoman on June 19 in 2017. It left the next day and never returned, the Bulgarian foreign ministry says.
“The tractor unit of the lorry is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland,” Essex police said in a statement.
“This will be a lengthy and complex investigation and we continue to work with local partners and international authorities to gather vital intelligence and identify those who have sadly died.”
Mr Robinson’s Facebook page contains images which show his interest in truck driving, including a selfie with one semi-trailer that is similar to the one police are investigating.
His pregnant partner told local media outlet Belfast live that she hadn’t heard from him and didn’t “know what is going on”.
Mr Robinson may not have been the only driver on the truck’s trip.
Police believe the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium into Purfleet in England, and then docked in the Thurrock area after 12.30am on Wednesday morning.
The tractor unit originated from Northern Ireland while the truck is registered to a company Varna on the east coast of Bulgaria, a country infamous for its people-smuggling gangs.
Bulgarian authorities said they could not yet confirm that the truck had started its journey there.
CCTV footage shows the truck just moments before it pulled into the industrial estate.
The semi-trailer had a sticker on the windscreen which read: “The Ultimate Dream”.
The East England Ambulance Service said they had been alerted to the grisly scene after receiving a phone call in the early hours of the morning, but could not confirm who made that call.
Deputy chief constable Pippa Mills from Essex Police said it was “an absolute tragedy and a very sad day.”
“We believe the lorry is from Bulgaria and came into the UK through Holyhead on the 19th of October,” she told reporters at a press conference.
“At this stage, we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities, and we anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled by this tragic incident”.
“I’m appalled by this tragic incident in Essex. I am receiving regular updates from the Home Office and will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened,” he tweeted.
“My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives and their loved ones.”
Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price said she was sickened by the news, which occurred in her constituency.
“People trafficking is a vile and dangerous business,” Ms Doyle-Price said.
“This is a big investigation for Essex Police. Let’s hope they bring these murderers to justice.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “shocked and saddened by this utterly tragic incident”.
“Essex Police has arrested an individual and we must give them the space to conduct their investigations,” she posted on Twitter.
People smugglers have previously killed their “clients” in poorly ventilated truck’s travelling large distances in Europe.
The UK’s National Crime Agency said it was one of the most common ways for migrants to enter the UK.
“The most common clandestine ways for migrants to enter the UK are in lorries or other commercial vehicles transported by rail or ferry, in commercial shipping containers, or in small boats,” the NCA said.
“Most methods of transport subject migrants to significant personal risk.
“The length of the UK’s coastline and the sheer volume of passengers and freight entering the UK every year make identifying shipments containing illegal migrants a significant challenge.”
In 2018, 71 people suffocated in a truck abandoned on an Austrian freeway. Four people in a smuggling gang were jailed in Hungary.
In June 2000, 58 Chinese immigrants were found in the back of a truck in Dover.
A Dutch truck driver was jailed the following year for their manslaughter.