A Police forensic investigation team is parked near the site where the bodies were discovered. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images  Source:Getty Images
A Police forensic investigation team is parked near the site where the bodies were discovered. Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

Company 'shellshocked' at UK truck deaths

A hire company says it was "shellshocked" and "gutted" after 39 Chinese people were found dead in one of its trailers.

A Global Trailer Rentals spokesman has confirmed the company owned the part of the truck found on an industrial estate east of London containing the bodies of the eight women and 31 men.

The refrigerated trailer was leased on October 15 from Global Trailer Rentals' yard in Co Monaghan, Ireland, the spokesman told RTE News on Thursday.

The company said it provided police with information about the person and company that leased the trailer, and offered to make tracking data available.

Its directors said the company was "entirely unaware" the trailer was to be used in the manner it was.

Detectives have been given an extra 24 hours to question the driver.

A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, named locally as Mo Robinson, was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in custody.

Officers are to start the process of removing the bodies from the truck and take them to a mortuary for post-mortem examinations.

The bodies are expected to be taken in a private ambulance under police escort in several convoys to a hospital in Chelmsford, northeast of London, by the weekend.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said the post-mortem and identification process will be "lengthy and complex".

The discovery on Wednesday echoes one in 2000 when the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants who had paid a criminal gang to be smuggled into the UK were found in a sealed, airless container in the coastal town of Dover.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel met with officers from the force on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, local dignitaries and police gathered to open a book of condolence.

Local councillor James Halden said the discovery was "devastating" and it was a "very dark day" for the town of Grays in Essex.

The trailer arrived at the nearby port at Purfleet from the Belgium village of Zeebrugge in the early hours of Wednesday, while the front tractor section came from Northern Ireland on Sunday.

Ambulance staff made the discovery at nearby Waterglade Industrial Park early on Wednesday.

The deaths follow warnings from the National Crime Agency and Border Force of the increased risk of people smuggling via Belgium and into quieter ports such as Purfleet.

The NCA previously said it had a "greater focus" on rising smuggler numbers in Belgium after the closure of a migrant camp, and a Border Force assessment highlighted Zeebrugge as being among "key ports of embarkation for clandestine arrivals".

The agency also warned criminal networks are suspected to have started targeting quieter ports on the east and south coasts of the UK as well as the main Channel crossing between Calais and Dover.

The day after the incident, a group of suspected migrants were seen being detained in Zeebrugge, with some of them seen trying to climb a fence into a compound attached to a truck company before they were intercepted by police.