Bodies in truck container identified as Chinese nationals

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 5:42 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019
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10:19 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

The number of migrants being smuggled into the UK by covert means is increasing

Authorities in the UK have seen a rise in the number of migrants using "clandestine" methods like containers and refrigerated trucks to illegally enter the UK over the last 12 months.

"The past year has seen increasing use of higher-risk methods of clandestine entry," the UK's National Crime Agency said in its latest report on Serious and Organised Crime.
"These include the movement of migrants (including children) into the UK in containers, refrigerated HGVs [heavy goods vehicle] and small boats, at a high risk to life of those migrants smuggled."

The report acknowledged that the extent of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK was not truly understood. But it did say that the potential victims identified through the National Referral Mechanism -- a process to support and track data about victims -- had increased by 36%, between 2017 and 2018.

9:33 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

This is not an unprecedented incident

From CNN's Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Rob Picheta in London

A police officer secures the cordon at at the scene where a lorry, believed to have originated from Bulgaria, and found to be containing 39 dead bodies, was discovered at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, east of London, on Wednesday.
A police officer secures the cordon at at the scene where a lorry, believed to have originated from Bulgaria, and found to be containing 39 dead bodies, was discovered at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, east of London, on Wednesday. Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

People losing their lives while trying to unlawfully enter European countries in truck containers has happened before.

Earlier this year, four human traffickers were jailed for life by a Hungarian court after the bodies of 71 migrants were discovered in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria, according to Reuters.

In 2000, authorities in the British port of Dover discovered the bodies of 58 Chinese migrants who suffocated in the back of an airtight truck during a ferry crossing from the Netherlands.

Today, with more stringent border checks in place -- utilizing technology like thermal imaging cameras to identify migrants hidden within vehicles -- the option has become much more difficult and costly to attempt, with smugglers charging thousands of euros for passage.

"The UK has invested a lot of money in protecting the lorry routes" from migrants crossing from France, said Nando Sigona, an associate professor in international migration at the University of Birmingham told CNN earlier this year. "That route has probably been sealed off, or made more difficult to pursue."

8:50 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Bulgarian embassy in London is in touch with British authorities over truck deaths 

From CNN's Nina Avramova in London 

Bulgaria's embassy in London is in contact with British authorities to "clarify" circumstances around the truck found in southeast England which contained 39 bodies, Bulgaria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Essex police earlier on Wednesday said that the truck came from Bulgaria. 

At present, it has not yet been confirmed whether the truck has a Bulgarian registration. There is also no indication of the nationality of the human bodies found in the truck. British police have warned that the identification of the bodies will take a long time," the statement said. 

A Bulgarian embassy representative had a meeting at the Foreign Office in London, the statement adds, and the country's ambassador spoke with the UK ambassador in Sofia, Bulgaria, agreeing to follow up on the case together.

8:38 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Local businesses arrived at scene to find it locked down this morning

From CNN's Brent Swails and Scott McLean in Grays, England

Authorities locked down the scene at the industrial park in Grays, east of London, quickly on Wednesday. Police erected green fencing around the truck to block it from onlookers, according to a CNN team on the ground.

Meanwhile fire and emergency support services are also working the site.

The wider industrial estate is made up of courier and logistics companies, PA news agency reported citing Dan Peters, a managing director of Pirtek, a hydraulic maintenance company based on the street the truck was found.

"Obviously, it's terrible news," Peters said. "We're not able to gain access to our units to open up for daily business."

10:21 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Home Secretary describes truck discovery as "truly shocking"

Following Prime Minister's Questions, Home Secretary Priti Patel updated the House of Commons on the latest developments in the investigation. She expressed her sympathy for the victims and paid tribute to the emergency response workers for their efforts.

"I think the whole House will agree this is truly a truly shocking incident. My thoughts and all thoughts and condolences are with the victims and their loved ones at this utterly terrible time," Patel said.

Patel said she had asked Home Office officials "to work closely with the investigation, providing all assistance we can in these horrific circumstances."

2:35 p.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Boris Johnson: Perpetrator should be hunted down and brought to justice

Boris Johnson has been speaking in the UK House of Commons on Wednesday lunchtime during Prime Minister's Questions.

Local Thurrock lawmaker Jackie Doyle-Price said: "To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil. The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

In response, the PM said:

I must say I do share [Doyle-Price’s] strong desire now for the perpetrators of that crime, and indeed all those who engage in similar activity -- because we know that this trade is going on -- all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice."
7:25 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Irish leader promises investigation if truck passed through country

From journalist Peter Taggart

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told Ireland's parliament Wednesday the incident in southeast England was a “tragedy" before promising to "carry out any investigations that are necessary if it's established the truck passed through Ireland.”

Earlier a spokesperson for Irish police told CNN it was "monitoring the developing investigation in the UK and will provide every assistance possible."

7:23 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

Here's what we know so far

UK police have confirmed 39 people were found in a truck in an industrial estate east of London. The investigation has only just gotten underway but here's what we know:

  • When the bodies were discovered? Local police were called to the scene at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, by ambulance services shortly before 1.40 a.m. local time on Wednesday. It is unclear who alerted the ambulance personnel. Emergency services pronounced all 39 people dead at the scene.
  • Who are they? Preliminary signs point to 38 adults and one teenager, Essex Police said in a statement. "At this stage we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities," Pippa Mills, Essex Police Deputy Chief Constable, said a short while ago.
  • The truck came from Bulgaria: Police have said they believe the truck entered the UK through the Welsh port of Holyhead over the weekend. The route has been described as an unusual but some haulage industry experts have suggested this may have been in a bid to dodge stricter border checks at Calais and Dover.
  • One man has been arrested: A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder, the police statement added.

6:42 a.m. ET, October 23, 2019

BREAKING: Police provide update on investigation

Deputy chief constable Pippa Mills has just briefed reporters for the first time since news emerged of 39 bodies found inside a container of a truck in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Mills described the incident as an "absolute tragedy" and said that officials had not been able to identify the individuals or where they may have come from at this stage.  

"The identification of the victims remains our number one priority," she said, adding that it could be a lengthy process. Mills appealed to the public to come forward with any information.

She also said it was a "complex scene" with authorities working to follow lines of inquiry.