UK police removing bodies of 39 Chinese nationals

Media captionThirty nine bodies were found in the trailer container

Police have begun the process of moving the bodies of 39 people found dead in a refrigerated lorry in Essex.

Eleven of the victims – believed to be Chinese nationals – were taken by ambulance from the Port of Tilbury to Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford.

Police have been granted extra time to question lorry driver Mo Robinson, 25, on suspicion of murdering the eight women and 31 men.

Post-mortem examinations will be the next step in the investigation.

The ambulance carrying the bodies left the port at 19:41 BST under police escort.

A spokesperson for Essex Police said recovering all the bodies would take time and the dignity of the victims was their primary concern.

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The lorry driver has been named locally as Mo Robinson, from County Armagh

Three properties in Northern Ireland have been raided and the National Crime Agency is working to establish if “organised crime groups” were involved.

Police believe the tractor unit – the front part of the lorry – had entered the country via Holyhead in Wales on Sunday, having travelled from Dublin.

The trailer arrived in Purfleet on the River Thames from Zeebrugge in Belgium at 00:30 BST on Wednesday.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 01:05 the same day.

Ambulance staff discovered the bodies in the container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays about 30 minutes later, just after 01:30.

Media captionCCTV shows the lorry arriving at the industrial park

Essex Police said the victims were all “believed to be Chinese nationals”.

China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming later tweeted: “The Chinese Embassy has sent a team led by the minister-counsellor in charge of consular affairs to Essex, England.

“They have met with the local police, who said that they are verifying the identity of the 39 deceased, whose nationality still cannot be confirmed.”

Vigils were held outside the Home Office in London and at the front of City Hall in Belfast on Thursday.

Police officers and councillors have signed a book of condolences, which was opened at Thurrock Council’s chambers in Essex.

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Campaigners attend a vigil outside the Home Office

Speaking earlier, Essex Police Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said he had the “utmost confidence” in his officers as the force leads its largest-ever murder investigation.

The deaths follow warnings from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force about the increased risk of people-smuggling using quieter ports such as Purfleet and routes through Belgium.

Global Trailer Rentals Ltd confirmed to RTE News that it owned the trailer and said it had leased it on 15 October.

The firm said it had given Essex Police the details of the person and company they had leased it to.

Thurrock’s Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price said there needed to be an international response.

“We have partnerships in place but those efforts need to be rebooted, this is an international criminal world where many gangs are making lots of money and until states act collectively to tackle that it is going to continue,” she said.

Media caption“I’ve seen people running out of a lorry”

In Northern Ireland, councillor Paul Berry said the village of Laurelvale in County Armagh, where the Robinson family live, was in “complete shock”.

He said he had been in contact with Mr Robinson’s father, who had learned of his son’s arrest on Wednesday through social media.

Lucy Moreton, from the Immigration Services Union, said the sheer number of containers coming into the UK every day made it impossible to look inside them all.

A spokesman for C.RO Ports, which operates terminals at Purfleet and Zeebrugge, said they would “fully assist” the police investigation.

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The bodies were found inside a lorry container at Waterglade Industrial Park

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