Two more people – a man and a woman – were arrested Friday as part of the investigation into the deaths of 39 people inside the back of a semi-truck in southeastern England.
Essex police said the pair, both 38, and from Warrington in northwest England, was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Additional information was not immediately available.
The 25-year-old truck driver, who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder, remains in police custody.
While authorities have not identified the driver, local British media have identified him as Mo Robinson of County Armagh in Northern Ireland.
“We want to be clear – we have not speculated about the identity of this man, and we will not do so,” police said Thursday.
The bodies of 31 men and 8 women were found dead inside the truck container early Wednesday at the Waterglade Industrial Parkin Grays, a town about 25 miles east of London. The remains of 11 people from the truck were transported by ambulance from the Port of Tilbury under police escort on Thursday.
First autopsies to determine the cause of death are expected to begin Friday.
“Formal identification will then follow the coronial process and will be a lengthy but crucial part of this investigation,” Essex police said in a statement. “As our investigations continue, the picture may change regarding identification, and we will continue to provide updates when appropriate under the direction of HM Coroner.”
Although Essex police said they believe the dead were Chinese citizens, Chinese officials told reporters in a Beijing that the nationalities and identities of the victims had not yet been confirmed.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was working in cooperation with local authorities.
“No matter where these victims come from, this is a great tragedy which drew the attention of the international community to the issue of illegal immigration,” she said. “The international community should further strengthen cooperation in this area, strengthen sharing of information and intelligence … to prevent such tragedies from happening again.”
Hua said Chinese authorities are also seeking information from police in Belgium since the shipping container in which the bodies were found was sent to England from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
The truck left the Belgian port via ferry and arrive in Purfleet, England, where it arrived early Wednesday. Where it was before then remains unclear.
As for the tractor unit of the truck – the smaller section at the front of the vehicle, police said it began its journey in Northern Ireland, where it made its way to Dublin. There it caught a ferry to Holyhead in north Wales before making its way to Essex. It picked up the container around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday in Thurrock.
It departed the dock around 1:05 a.m. and was spotted in CCTV footage going toward the industrial park just minutes before the bodies were discovered inside.
“This is the largest investigation of its kind Essex Police has ever had to conduct and it is likely to take some considerable time to come to a conclusion,” Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said in a statement.
The tractor unit is registered in Bulgaria to a company owned by an Irish woman.
Global Trailer Rentals Ltd told Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE the trailer it owns was leased Oct. 15 in County Monaghan, in Ireland, at a rate of 275 euros ($299) per week. The Dublin-based company said it will make the data from its tracking system available to investigators.
The company’s directors told RTE it was “shell-shocked” at the news.
Three addresses in County Armagh were searched following the arrest of the driver.
The tragedy recalls the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants who suffocated in a truck in Dover, England, in 2000 after a perilous, months-long journey from China’s southern Fujian province. They were found stowed with a cargo of tomatoes after a ferry ride from Zeebrugge, the same Belgian port that featured in the latest tragedy.
In February 2004, 21 Chinese migrants — also from Fujian — who were working as cockle-pickers in Britain drowned when they were caught by treacherous tides in Morecambe Bay in northwest England.
The Associated Press
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