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Updated: Police Investigate Organized Crime Links as 39 Bodies Found in Truck Container

The bodies of 39 people have been found in a semi-trailer truck container approximately nine miles east of London, U.K. The driver of the truck has been arrested along with two others and police are investigating links to organized crime and human trafficking.

The truck was found at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, on October 23. The Industrial park is close to Purfleet ferry terminal and police believe the refrigerated container arrived at Purfleet via Belgium. Belgian police are investigating how long the container spent there and where it originated from. The truck itself is thought to have travelled from Northern Ireland before collecting the container at Purfleet. The vehicle was registered in Bulgaria under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen.

The driver of the truck, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was arrested on suspicion of murder on October 23 and remains in custody. On October 25, two individuals were arrested in connection with human trafficking enquiries relating to the incident.

Essex police said on October 24 that the victims are all believed to be Chinese nationals. But on October 25, new details emerged that suggests at least some of the victims may have been Vietnamese. Pham Tra My, aged 26 from Vietnam, has not been heard from since she sent urgent messages on October 22 which said she was unable to breathe. Her brother said she had paid $38,000 to people smugglers and that her last known location was Belgium.

The U.K. National Crime Agency is working to identify any organized crime agencies that may have played a part and two houses have been raided in Northern Ireland as part of these investigations. The crime agency says all British ports are used for human trafficking. Many such attempts used to be made via the French port of Calais, but since they stepped up security screening and searches, traffickers have moved to other routes.

It is a lucrative business for the traffickers. The cost of a truck to travel from Zeebrugge port in Belgium to Purfleet is about $500 but the migrants will pay $13,000 – $40,000 each.

On October 19, 13 migrants, including one child, were found in a hay compartment on a truck carrying livestock in the port of Calais, France. Five people were later were arrested as part of a National Crime Agency investigation into a crime group suspected of hiding migrants in a cattle truck in a bid to smuggle them into the U.K. One man was arrested in Calais, and four more men, aged between 23 and 39, were later arrested by the agency on suspicion of facilitating immigration in a series of raids in Romford and Brentwood, Essex. Investigators also searched properties in Grays, Essex, and Worthing, West Sussex. At one a substantial amount of cash, thought to be around £100,000, was recovered and seized.

This story was updated on October 25.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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