UK police find 39 dead in back of truck in suspected case of human smuggling

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Human trafficking is a terrible scourge no matter where in the world it occurs, and those in the United Kingdom just witnessed that firsthand: what appears to have been an attempt to smuggle a truckload of people into the country went tragically wrong.

Sky News reported that a semi-truck was discovered parked in an industrial complex in Essex with 39 deceased individuals — believed to be Chinese nationals — in its trailer. The driver has been arrested and is now facing murder charges, Fox News reports.

39 victims discovered

Authorities have determined that the truck was registered in the central European nation of Bulgaria and is believed to have entered the U.K. by way of the Holyhead port of entry in north Wales, the BBC reports.

It is believed the truck took a rather circuitous and “unorthodox route” through western France and up through Ireland into Dublin before crossing over into England at Holyhead, rather than entering the southern part of the U.K. more directly from northern France or Belgium, where security checks tend to be tighter.

The driver has been identified as a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland who is the sole suspect in custody at this time, though the investigation continues, according to CBS News.

Bulgarian officials claimed to have “no information” other than what was reported in the media, but they did confirm that the truck was registered in Bulgaria by a company owned by a citizen of Ireland.

Full investigation underway

“This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our enquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened,” Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner told Sky News. “We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.”

Police have cordoned off the industrial park for the duration of the investigation, and Mariner issued an apology and plea for patience to anyone who may be impacted by the disruption, which he hoped would not last too long.

That apology was echoed by Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills, who told reporters that it could be a “lengthy process” to identify all of the bodies and complete the investigation of what she described as an “absolute tragedy and a very sad day for Essex Police and the community.”

“Unimaginable tragedy”

Sky reported that other law enforcement agencies have joined the Essex Police on the investigation, including the National Crime Agency and the Northern Ireland police. Additionally, the U.K. Home Office, Irish government, and Bulgarian government have all offered to provide any assistance necessary.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I’m appalled by this tragic incident in Essex. I am receiving regular updates and the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened. My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives & their loved ones.”

Later, while speaking with Parliament, Johnson reiterated that what had happened was an “unimaginable tragedy” and said that anyone involved in human trafficking deserved to be “hunted down and brought to justice.” We couldn’t agree more.

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