Driver arrested in connection with 39 lorry container deaths named as 25-year-old Armagh man

The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Scania lorry was registered in Varna, a city on the east coast of the country, under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen.

Driver arrested in connection with 39 lorry container deaths named as 25-year-old Armagh man

  • The truck in which 39 people were found dead in Essex in the UK is now thought to have arrived in the country from Zeebrugge, in Belgium, and is understood not to have travelled through the Republic of Ireland.
  • The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Scania lorry was registered in Varna, a city on the east coast of the country, under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen.
  • The tractor unit of the lorry is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland.
  • Ambulance staff found all 39 victims, including a teenager, dead inside the container. The other 38 victims were all adults.
  • The lorry driver - a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland - has been arrested in connection with the investigation, and is police custody. He has been named in reports as Mo Robinson from Portadown in Co Armagh

Update - 6.21pm: The lorry driver arrested in connection with the discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry container in Essex, England has been named in reports as Mo Robinson from Portadown in Co Armagh. The lorry trailer is believed to have travelled from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet, Essex, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12:30am on Wednesday. A freight ferry service runs from Zeebrugge to Purfleet.

Update - 5.02pm: Essex Police will shortly be moving the trailer and lorry to a secure location.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said: “We have been progressing our investigations at the scene here in Grays throughout the day.

“In order to ensure we maintain the dignity of the people who sadly lost their lives, we will be moving the lorry and the trailer shortly.

“Once that movement has happened we will remain here to complete some scene examinations before we can allow all the business operators back to their premises.”

Ms Mills continued: “This matter has attracted national and international interest and it is absolutely imperative that the operation is conducted with the utmost respect for the 39 people who have lost their lives.

“The lorry and the trailer will be moved to a secure location, Tilbury Docks, so the bodies can be recovered while preserving the dignity of the victims. We are yet to identify them and must manage this sensitively with their families.”

May I remind you all we have a 25-year-old man in custody on suspicion of murder. I will not be commenting on speculation of the identity of this man.

The Essex Police chief constable appealed for information from the public and finished her statement by stating the investigation will be a “lengthy inquiry”.

Commenting on the discovery of the truck, the Irish Refugee Council said: "If this needless loss of human life is connected to forced migration, it brings into sharp focus the desperate need for safe and legal pathways to protection and migration.

"Since 2014, 18,898 deaths were registered in the Mediterranean alone. It continues to be the most dangerous crossing in the world. It is very likely that countless other, unrecorded lives have been lost as Europe focuses on stemming migration flows.

While Ireland has taken steps to develop safe and legal pathways to protection, it and other European countries, can do more.

Update - 3.44pm: The truck at the centre of the container tragedy in Essex is registered in Bulgaria and is owned by an Irish woman, according to the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry.

The truck, found to have 39 bodies inside, was found at an industrial park in the UK and a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested on suspicion of murder this morning.

An Garda Síochána, said they are “monitoring the developing investigation in the UK and will provide every assistance possible” to Essex Police and investigators.

The Bulgarian Embassy in London received information about the registration from British police, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Scania truck was registered in the city of Varna under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen.

Bulgarian public broadcaster BNR said that the truck, which has been registered in Bulgaria on 19 June 2017, had left the Balkan country the next day and has not returned since.

Update: Stena Line Ports, which operates Holyhead Port in North Wales, said it was ready to provide “assistance” to police following the discovery of the bodies.

In a statement, Stena Line Ports said: “We are aware of the devastating situation that has come to light this morning regarding a lorry that was located in Essex.

“At this time, the Essex Police are investigating and in control of the incident.

“Our thoughts are with the families of those whom have lost their lives. We are ready and available to provide any assistance that is required to support the investigation.”

Verona Murphy, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, says drivers and staff in the industry are aghast at the news from Essex.

“I’m flabbergasted and devastated, 39 people are dead within this industry for whatever reason, is just devastating,” she said.

“Devastating for their families, and although we have very little information on this, from our point of view we will be advising our drivers for the need for vigilance, for carrying out their own checks.

“We don’t know if this is orchestrated behaviour but we are determined to be sure that all our members are following guidelines to avoid anything of this nature, like protecting themselves and equipment, but most of all mindful of the protection of human life.

“There is total devastation among the industry that this has happened and no-one would treat this with complacency.”

Ms Murphy added that protection of human life should be the number one priority for all drivers.

She said:

“We don’t condone illegal immigration, assuming that’s what this is, if this is the case it’s selfish and greedy without any concern for those who wish to cross borders.”

“We’ve never had incidents where smugglers have offered any of our drivers money but we’ve had a number of incidents where drivers were subject to threats and have reported that.

“What happens out there is a very organised industry and we would say it’s hazardous for everyone involved.

“Under UK Border Force rules, the greatest of precaution is the protection of human life and their own, (the drivers), these are very vulnerable and desperate people.

“Very few of our drivers have ever been involved or prosecuted in the illegal trafficking of humans, I’m not aware of any, we’ve had someone who was a victim of infiltration.

“However, if you can prove you performed your checks, you might just receive a fine.

“We’re in total shock but what’s sad is the world has become desensitised to this kind of thing.”

Earlier: Taoiseach promises Garda help if lorry with 39 dead in UK is found to have come via Ireland

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said any necessary investigations would be undertaken if it was established the lorry had passed through Ireland.

It comes as British police investigate the discovery of 39 bodies found in a container on the back of a lorry in England this morning.

It is thought the lorry may have entered Holyhead via Dublin.

“The information that we have so far this morning is very sketchy but there are some reports that the truck may have passed through Ireland at some point,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil.

“So, obviously we are going to need to get more information and carry out any necessary investigations that may be required.

“But I think everyone’s thoughts in this House this morning are with those who are dead, those who have passed on and their families.

“It is a real terrible and human tragedy, and we will carry out any investigations that are necessary if it’s established that the truck did pass through Ireland.”

A spokeswoman for police in Bulgaria confirmed they were aware of the incident, but said British officers were leading the investigation.

Earlier: UK police probe Irish links to lorry where 39 bodies were found in 'horrendous' conditions

At a press conference at Grays police station, deputy chief constable Pippa Mills said police were unable to identify the bodies.

She said the discovery was an “absolute tragedy” and appealed to anyone with any information to contact police.

She said: “Please appreciate we are in the early stages of what is likely to be a lengthy investigation.”

“I’m unable to say at this stage how long the cordon will be in place.

“But please let me reassure you that my officers and partners will be doing everything they can to release the scene as soon as possible.”

She added: “This is an absolute tragedy and very sad day for Essex police and the community.

“We will continue to work alongside many other partner agencies to find out what led to these deaths.

“I would like to appeal to anyone who has any information to contact my officers at the major investigations team.”

Police at the scene today.
Police at the scene today.

The UK's Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett told PA the container appeared to be a refrigerated unit and described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.

Temperatures in such units can be as low as -25C if frozen products are being transported, causing humans to “lose their lives pretty quickly”, he said.

He went on: “It’s going to be dark. If the fridge is running it’s going to be incredibly cold.

“The only place to go to the toilet is on board the back of the trailer. You can imagine if they’ve been in there for days then there will be faeces, there will be urine.”

Update: Police in the UK are investigating Irish links to a lorry that was found to have 39 dead bodies in an industrial estate in England this morning.

British police discovered the victims at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, including one teenager.

It is thought the lorry that was carrying the 39 people in a container will have entered Holyhead via Dublin.

It comes after Police in England arrested a man from Northern Ireland following the discovery of 39 bodies inside a lorry container in England.

The UK's Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said the lorry could have travelled on a ferry from Cherbourg, France, to Rosslare, Ireland, before driving to Dublin and taking another ferry to Holyhead, North Wales and then reaching Kent by road.

He told PA: “It’s highly unlikely that if this vehicle has come from Europe that it’s been physically checked.

“Because of the migrant issue at Dover and Calais, you’ve got far more checks that are taking place there. You’ve got heartbeat monitors, you’ve got dogs, you’ve got CO2. Those checks are done as you drive through."

“Cherbourg, because it’s a low volume port, you probably won’t have the same security measures that they have in Coquelles, Calais, for the high number of vehicles that are stepping through there and that’s been one of the main migrant routes historically.

“If this is somebody trying to smuggle a significant number of people through then maybe Cherbourg has been picked because it’s a little easier to get through.”

Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association (FTA), told PA: “There is a direct route to Holyhead from Dublin.

“If the lorry came from Bulgaria, getting into Britain via Holyhead is an unorthodox route.

An aerial view of police forensic officers at the scene in England today.
An aerial view of police forensic officers at the scene in England today.

“People have been saying that security and checks have been increased at places like Dover and Calais, so it might be seen as an easier way to get in by going from Cherbourg or Roscoff, over to Rosslare, then up the road to Dublin.

“It’s a long way around and it’ll add an extra day to the journey.”

Earlier: UK police arrest man from NI after 39 bodies found in back of lorry

Police in England have arrested a man from Northern Ireland after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry container.

The victims, found at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, included one teenager, Essex Police said.

A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner said: "This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our enquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened.

"We are in the process of identifying the victims, however I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.

"We believe the lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the country at Holyhead on Saturday 19 October and we are working closely with our partners to investigate.

Police at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, today.
Police at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, today.

"We have arrested the lorry driver in connection with the incident who remains in police custody as our enquiries continue."

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

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I’m appalled by this tragic incident in Essex.

“I am receiving regular updates and the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened.

“My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives & their loved ones.”

A cordon has been put in place and access to and from the Waterglade Industrial Park remains closed.

Chief Supt Mariner said: "I appreciate this cordon is going to disrupt the activity of local businesses in the area and we will work to ensure that disruption is kept as short as possible. We are working with Thurrock Council to mitigate against any impact our investigation scene will have locally."

Paige Wade was driving past the industrial park at 4.15am on the way home from work.

She told the PA news agency: “I had just finished work while driving up Motherwell Way and all you could see was blue flashing lights, as I was driving past there was police tape to cordon off the start of Eastern Avenue.

“I knew it was serious because of how many police cars and ambulances were there, but the police had parked their cars across the whole access of the road so you couldn’t see anything.

“There’s always lorries around there as they park up there for the night.”

A restaurant worker in the industrial estate, who did not want to be named, said the area was cordoned off by police on Wednesday morning.

“There’s a lot of police and forensics,” the Big Blue Food Bus employee told the PA news agency.

“We’ve just seen what has been said online. It’s awful.

“We thought maybe someone had broken into a lorry, but it’s just awful.”

Glen Freeland, from GSF Car Parts which is close to where the bodies were found, said staff could not access the shop on Eastern Avenue on Wednesday morning.

“The manager went to get into work this morning and it was cordoned off and we’ve been moved to a different area,” Mr Freeland said.

“All we know is they found the bodies in the back of a lorry.

“It was a bit of a shock but we’re not 100 per cent sure of what’s happened.”

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