Three more arrested after 39 victims found in Essex truck container

By Bianca Britton, CNN

Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT) October 26, 2019
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9:17 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

More victims' bodies transported for post-mortem examinations

Police officers drive away a lorry from Waterglade Industrial Park on October 23.
Police officers drive away a lorry from Waterglade Industrial Park on October 23. BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images.

Private ambulances have transported more victims' bodies on Friday afternoon to Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford, according to Britain's PA news agency.

PA reported that three ambulances left the Port of Tilbury -- where the truck was being held in a secure location -- at about 1:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. ET).

Eleven bodies were transported on Thursday night so that post-mortem examinations could be carried out.

7:50 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

"The picture may change regarding identification," police say

Essex Police said in a statement that the first post-mortem examinations will begin Friday, after the bodies of the victims inside the truck were transported from the Port of Tilbury to a mortuary.

Formal identification will then follow the coronial process and will be a lengthy but crucial part of this investigation," Essex Police said.

Police added that as their investigation continues, "the picture may change regarding identification, and we will continue to provide updates when appropriate under the direction of HM Coroner."

8:19 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

BREAKING: Two people arrested on suspicion of human trafficking and manslaughter

A man and a woman, both 38 years old, have been arrested in connection with the deaths of 39 people, according to Essex Police.

They were arrested in Warrington in northern England on suspicion of human trafficking and manslaughter, officers said.

The 25-year-old Northern Irish truck driver remains in custody on suspicion of murder, police added.

7:22 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

Here's what we know about the timeline

From CNN's Lauren Said-Moorhouse

Sunday, October 20:

  • The truck is thought to have entered Great Britain through the Welsh port of Holyhead after traveling over from Ireland, according to Essex Police.
  • Investigators believe the truck -- which was registered in Bulgaria in 2017 -- originated in Northern Ireland.
  • Bulgaria's Prime Minister said on local television channel bTV that the truck has not returned to the country since its registration

Tuesday, October 22:

  • The container arrived at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge at 2:49 p.m. local time (1:49 p.m. UK time), before leaving for the UK that same afternoon, according to the preliminary findings of Belgian prosecutors.

Wednesday, October 23:

  • The container entered the English port of Purfleet shortly after 12:30 a.m., Essex Police says. Belgian officials said the container arrived from Zeebrugge at midnight.
  • The truck then left the port shortly after 1:05 a.m. and at around 1:40 a.m. ambulance workers called police to the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays following the discovery of the 39 people. All were pronounced dead at the scene.
  • Authorities arrested the driver of the truck, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, on suspicion of murder. He was later identified by a local councilor as Mo Robinson.
  • The truck and trailer was then moved to a "secure location" in Tilbury Docks, about a 20-minute drive from where the bodies were discovered.
  • Police in Northern Ireland raided multiple properties, one of which has been identified by local residents as the home of Robinson's parents. CNN was present at the parents' home in County Armagh, southwest of Belfast, and witnessed officers going in and out of the house.

Thursday, October 24:

  • Essex Police say the dead -- 31 men and eight women -- were all believed to be Chinese nationals. They also said that the truck driver would remain in custody for another 24 hours.
  • China's embassy in the UK says it's sending personnel to the scene of the investigation "to verify relevant information" and its embassy in Belgium demands Belgian police to "conduct a comprehensive investigation."
  • The first 11 victims from the truck were transported Thursday night to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations.
6:36 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

UK Home Office was warned two years ago that border force had staffing issues, Chancellor says

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid.
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

The UK Home Office was warned two years ago that there were staffing problems at east coast ports, Chancellor Sajid Javid told the BBC according to Britain's PA news agency.

"I couldn't tell you about staffing particularly at Purfleet, I don't have that detail," Javid said.

"But I can tell you that, during the last year, certainly the year that I was at the Home Office, there was a significant increase in the number of Border Force officers."

Context: The truck, which was carrying the 39 victims on board, arrived at Purfleet in England on Wednesday at 1:00 a.m. CET (12 a.m. BST).
5:56 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

Candlelight vigil for truck victims held

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite in London

Mourners gather at the vigil outside the UK Home Office.
Mourners gather at the vigil outside the UK Home Office. Sharon Braithwaite/CNN

A candlelight vigil was held Thursday outside the UK Home Office for 39 people found dead in a truck in Grays, Essex.

CNN spoke to mourners gathered at the vigil. Here's what they said:

Amos Kyahurwa, 40, is from Uganda. He fled his country because he was being persecuted and came to the UK to seek asylum.

“I was disowned by my own parents because of my sexuality. When I heard the news yesterday, I felt so sad. l cried inside my heart for those who lost their lives. It was very difficult for me to come to the UK. I was chased, beaten up, insulted.”

Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of "Stand Up to Racism" and joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism.

“We send our condolences to the victims’ families. We stand in horror for how these people have died. Human beings are treated less than a tin, this is the problem. No human being is illegal, everyone has the right for a decent life. Refugees are welcome here in the UK, asylum seekers are welcome here.”

Juliet Kipling, a volunteer at "Safe passage," a charity for unaccompanied child refugees.

"I’m sad about the people found dead yesterday and I’m angry that many people have to take those routes, that they at risk of being trafficked, exploited because of their vulnerability. The Home Office and the government need to keep these safe routes open. In the event of a no-deal Brexit there’s a risk of those routes are closed and that children in the process of family unification may be dropped and won’t have that process completed. We need an assurance from our government now, that whatever happens with Brexit that these safe and legal routes won’t be closed down."

Ulrika Schmidt, a teacher and Amnesty International activist.

“I’m here because I’m shocked and saddened by the news of those 39 people who lost their lives in a lorry. It is important to make a stand so that this kind of news doesn’t normalize. We lost count of how many people died in the Mediterranean, trying to find a safe place. I think that it’s terrible. We have to assert that all of these people fleeing and using dangerous methods to try and find a safe place, are people like you and me and should enjoy the same human rights: we have to stand up for their rights.”


5:20 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

Why would people from China, the world's second-biggest economy, risk their lives to enter the UK?

From CNN's Aimee Lewis

British Police forensics officers work on ther lorry found to be containing 39 dead bodies, at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays.
British Police forensics officers work on ther lorry found to be containing 39 dead bodies, at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays. Getty Images

Little has been publicly revealed about who the victims were, and how and why they came to be transported across the world in what is believed to be a refrigerated truck.

But one question has perplexed many: why would citizens from the world's second-biggest economy travel -- either voluntarily or under duress -- to the UK in such a way?

The numbers:

  • Nearly 10 million of the international migrant population of 258 million are Chinese citizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) -- making China the fourth-largest country of origin for international migrants.

Who is migrating?

  • There is an assumption that migrants are often the poorest in society, seeking low-skilled employment or fleeing from terror. But this is not always true, especially for Chinese migrants.
  • Typically, migrants traveling to Europe or the US are not the "poorest of the poor" because they require significant resources to move -- whether they are migrating legally or illegally, Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, an associate director of MPI's International program, told CNN.

Fourth-most common origin for victims of modern slavery in the UK

  • According to the UK government's 2018 annual report on modern slavery, China is the fourth-most common country of origin for victims of modern slavery in the UK, behind the UK itself, Albania and Vietnam. In 2017, 293 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK were reported to originate from China, the government said.

Trafficking and smuggling

  • According to the Migration Policy Institute, Chinese citizens have migrated for many reasons over the years, including political repression, the one-child policy and a desire to study abroad.
  • But the methods to leave can vary significantly. "The opportunities that are available are not available equally for all citizens and this is also where smuggling and trafficking comes in, particularly with human trafficking," Banulescu-Bogdan said.

Read more about why Chinese nationals are risking their lives, here:

5:18 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

China says identity of victims still being confirmed

From CNN's Lily Lee and Isaac Yee in Hong Kong

Police officers drive away a lorry, with black plastic visible at the rear, in which 39 bodies were discovered in Essex.
Police officers drive away a lorry, with black plastic visible at the rear, in which 39 bodies were discovered in Essex. BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said the 39 bodies that were discovered in a refrigerated lorry in Essex have yet to be identified as Chinese at this time.

"The British police expressed that the identity of the victims is still being verified. It is not yet possible to confirm whether they were Chinese nationals," spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

"We hope that the British side will confirm the identity of the victims as soon as possible, find out the truth, and severely punish the criminals involved in the case."

The spokesperson added that consular officials from the Embassy in China are working closely with UK authorities and that British police are "still in the process of verification."

When asked by CNN about the possibility of Chinese citizens being illegally trafficked, the question was rebuffed by the spokesperson.

"Chinese people have gained an unprecedented level of gratefulness, safeness, fulfillment and happiness over the past, over the past seven decades," Hua replied.

"If you look around the globe you will find more and more foreign friends wishing to work, study and holiday in China even more they hope live in China for a long time, so I think this is not an appropriate question for you to raise here."

5:06 a.m. ET, October 25, 2019

First victims transported to hospital for identification

From CNN’s Katie Polglase in London 

The first 11 victims who were found in a container truck on Wednesday were transported to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford -- about a 45-minute drive from where the truck was being held in a secure location -- where they are undergoing post-mortem examinations and identification, Essex Police said in a statement on Thursday. 

They added, “the process of victim recovery under the DVI (disaster victim identification) process is likely to take some time."

Police said it was "being done in liaison with HM Coroner and we continue to ensure the dignity of the victims is our primary consideration."