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UK police believe truck death victims were Vietnamese

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Via Financial Times

Police investigating the discovery of 39 bodies in a refrigerated truck trailer in south-east England on Friday said they believed the victims were Vietnamese and that they thought they had identified some of the dead.

Essex Police made the announcement shortly after saying that a second man had been charged over the deaths. The bodies were discovered in the early hours of October 23 on the Waterglade Industrial Park, near Grays.

Eamonn Harrison, 22, of Mayobridge, near Newry in Northern Ireland, was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter as well as human trafficking and immigration offences under a European arrest warrant after being arrested in Dublin. He had appeared at the High Court in Dublin earlier on Friday.

Police initially said they believed the dead were Chinese nationals but distanced themselves from that assessment as relatives in Vietnam started to give details of distressing messages they had received from people apparently suffocating in the truck.

Tim Smith, Essex Police’s deputy chief constable, said on Friday that the force now believed the victims were Vietnamese nationals and that it was in contact with the country’s government.

“We are in direct contact with a number of families in Vietnam and the UK, and we believe we have identified families for some of the victims whose journey ended in tragedy on our shores,” Mr Smith said.

However, the “confirmatory evidence” needed to present the cases formally to the senior coroner involved had not yet been obtained and was being gathered “across a number of jurisdictions worldwide”.

“As a result, we cannot at this time announce the identity of any of the victims,” Mr Smith said.

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A number of families from the provinces of Ha Tinh and Nghe An have said that family members are missing after the tragedy. They include Pham Thi Tra My, 26, who sent her parents text messages saying she could not breathe in a truck trailer and that her journey abroad “didn’t succeed”.

Police in Ha Tinh said on Friday that they had arrested two people after launching an inquiry into possible human trafficking.

The Vietnamese embassy in London said it was “deeply saddened” by the police’s assessment but stressed that specific identities for the victims still had to be confirmed.

“We would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims,” the embassy said.

The charging of Mr Harrison follows the appearance in court in Chelmsford on Monday of Maurice Robinson, 25, from Craigavon, in Northern Ireland, the first person charged in connection with the case. Mr Robinson had been driving the truck when the bodies were discovered.

The Crown Prosecution Service is due to start extradition proceedings to have Mr Harrison brought to the UK.

The Garda, Ireland’s police force, on October 26 said they had arrested a man in his early 20s from Northern Ireland who was of interest in the Essex case.

Belgian prosecutors subsequently said the man was suspected of driving the trailer in which the migrants died to the port of Zeebrugge, in Belgium. The trailer was later picked up from the port of Purfleet, in Essex, a short distance from where the bodies were found.

Three people arrested over the case on October 25 were released on bail on October 27.

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The case is one of the UK’s biggest mass death inquiries and the worst of its kind since 58 Chinese migrants were found dead in a trailer near Dover in 2000.

Essex Police still want to speak to two brothers from Northern Ireland — Ronan Hughes, 40, and Christopher Hughes, 34. Speaking in Belfast on Friday, Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten of Essex Police said the force had already spoken by telephone to Ronan Hughes but that they needed to speak to the two men in person.

“Finding Ronan and Christopher Hughes is crucial to our investigation and the sooner we can make this happen, the sooner we can get on with our inquires and bring those responsible for these tragic deaths to justice,” DCI Stoten said.

He said the force believed the brothers were in Northern Ireland but that they also had links with the Irish Republic.

There is a well-established route smuggling people from Vietnam to the UK to work in nail bars and often in illegal cannabis factories.

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