The 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container in the UK were Chinese nationals, British police announced on Thursday as they continued to question the Northern Irish truck driver on suspicion of murdering the eight women and 31 men.
Officers in Northern Ireland have also raided three properties and the National Crime Agency said it was working to identify “organised crime groups who may have played a part”.
Police are continuing to question lorry driver Mo Robinson, 25, on suspicion of murdering the eight women and 31 men, the BBC reported.
The trailer arrived in Purfleet on the River Thames from Zeebrugge in Belgium.
Ambulance staff discovered the bodies in the container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays in Essex, a town 32 km east of London, on Wednesday early morning.
Police said the tractor unit – the front part of the lorry – came from Northern Ireland and picked up the trailer from Purfleet.
“It is not yet clear when the victims were placed in the container and whether this happened in Belgium,” the Belgian Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement.
The lorry was moved to a secure site at Tilbury Docks on Wednesday so the bodies could be “recovered while preserving the dignity of the victims”.
Essex Police said formal identification of the 39 bodies “could be a lengthy process”.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said temperatures in refrigerated trailers could be as low as -25C.
He described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was an “unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking”.
As the horrifying series of events unfolded, Members of Parliament speculated in the House of Commons that the incident was linked to human trafficking — a claim yet to be confirmed by the police.
Police in England, Northern Ireland and now Belgium scrambled overnight to establish the chain of events that led to the deaths.
In 2000, the bodies of 58 illegal Chinese immigrants were found in a Dutch truck at the southeastern English port of Dover.