Lorry driver, 25, arrested on suspicion of murder after 39 bodies found in container

  • Police called to lorry on Wednesday morning, where 39 bodies were found

  • Officers say trailer travelled from Zeebrugge, Belgium, into Purfleet, Essex

  • Lorry driver, 25, from Northern Ireland, arrested on suspicion of murder

  • Driver arrested named locally as Mo Robinson

  • Trailer arrived at Purfleet at 12.30am, the bodies were found at 1.40am

  • Home Secretary ‘willing to consider tough sentences for human traffickers’

Mo Robinson, pictured in a social media image, is reportedly the man arrested in connection with the 39 deaths. (Sky News)

This is the first picture of the man believed to be the Northern Irish lorry driver arrested on suspicion of murder after 39 bodies were found in a lorry container in Essex.

Mo Robinson, 25, was named locally on Wednesday as the man being held by Essex Police after 38 adults and one teen were discovered in the vehicle on an industrial estate in Thurrock.

Investigators have said the lorry, which is registered in Bulgaria, was discovered at around 1.40am at the Waterglade Industrial Park in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Police have said the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge into Purfleet, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12:30am this morning.

Detectives said the front tractor unit of the vehicle is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland.

The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaves the industrial estate on Wednesday afternoon, where it was to be moved to a secure location.
Grays lorry moved to secure location

None of the victims’ identities or nationalities have been officially given.

An Essex Police statement on Wednesday afternoon said: “Originally, we reported that the lorry had travelled into the country through Holyhead on Saturday 19 October.

“After further enquiries, we now believe that the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge into Purfleet, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12:30am this morning. The tractor unit of the lorry is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland.

“We believe the lorry and trailer left the port shortly after 1.05am.”

Boris Johnson earlier said he was “appalled” by the discovery of the bodies, and that those responsible for the deaths “should be hunted down”.

Essex Police said it was called by the ambulance service shortly before 1.40am on Wednesday following the discovery of a lorry container with people inside.

All 39 people were pronounced dead at the scene.

Early indications suggest there 38 are adults and one teenager inside the container, police said (SWNS)

Police have said tracking the route of the lorry "will be a key line of inquiry" amid concerns it may have made its way to the British mainland unchecked by avoiding strict controls at Calais and Dover.

Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price said the people smugglers responsible must be caught.

She told the House of Commons: "To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil.

"The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

Haulage industry experts suggested the lorry was likely to have arrived in Ireland from Cherbourg or Roscoff, avoiding the tighter checks for people smuggling at Calais and Dover.

At a press conference at Grays police station, deputy chief constable Pippa Mills described the incident as an “absolute tragedy”, adding that said police were unable to identify the bodies and would not confirm whether they were male or female.

She said: "Please appreciate we are in the early stages of what is likely to be a lengthy investigation."

She added: "I'm unable to say at this stage how long the cordon will be in place.

"But please let me reassure you that my officers and partners will be doing everything they can to release the scene as soon as possible."

Police forensic officers inspect the lorry where the bodies were found on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Police say identifying names and nationalities of the victims “will be a lengthy process”.

Local Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price said "people trafficking is a vile and dangerous business", adding: "Let's hope they bring these murderers to justice."

Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner said: “This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our enquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened.

A police presence remains at the scene of the discovery(PA)
A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder (PA)

“We are in the process of identifying the victims, however I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.

“We believe the lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the country at Holyhead on Saturday 19 October and we are working closely with our partners to investigate.

“We have arrested the lorry driver in connection with the incident who remains in police custody as our enquiries continue. I appreciate this cordon is going to disrupt the activity of local businesses in the area and we will work to ensure that disruption is kept as short as possible. We are working with Thurrock Council to mitigate against any impact our investigation scene will have locally.”

Dan Peters, from a hydraulic maintenance company on the industrial estate where the bodies were found, said it was "terrible" news.

"We're not able to gain access to our units to open up for daily business," the Pirtek managing director said.

The lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the country at Holyhead, North Wales, one of the main port for ferries from Ireland (SWNS)

Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association (FTA), said of the journey the lorry took: "There is a direct route to Holyhead from Dublin.

"If the lorry came from Bulgaria, getting into Britain via Holyhead is an unorthodox route.

"People have been saying that security and checks have been increased at places like Dover and Calais, so it might be seen as an easier way to get in by going from Cherbourg or Roscoff, over to Rosslare, then up the road to Dublin.

"It's a long way around and it'll add an extra day to the journey."

Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said the lorry could have travelled on a ferry from Cherbourg, France, to Rosslare, Ireland, before driving to Dublin and taking another ferry to Holyhead, North Wales and then reaching Kent by road.

He said: "It's highly unlikely that if this vehicle has come from Europe that it's been physically checked.

"Because of the migrant issue at Dover and Calais, you've got far more checks that are taking place there. You've got heartbeat monitors, you've got dogs, you've got CO2. Those checks are done as you drive through.

"Cherbourg, because it's a low volume port, you probably won't have the same security measures that they have in Coquelles, Calais, for the high number of vehicles that are stepping through there and that's been one of the main migrant routes historically.

"If this is somebody trying to smuggle a significant number of people through then maybe Cherbourg has been picked because it's a little easier to get through."

Paige Wade was driving past the industrial park at 4.15am on the way home from work.

She told the PA news agency: "I had just finished work while driving up Motherwell Way and all you could see was blue flashing lights, as I was driving past there was police tape to cordon off the start of Eastern Avenue.

"I knew it was serious because of how many police cars and ambulances were there, but the police had parked their cars across the whole access of the road so you couldn't see anything.

"There's always lorries around there as they park up there for the night."

Patel ‘willing to consider tougher sentences for human traffickers

Home Secretary Priti Patel has signalled she is willing to consider tougher sentences for human traffickers.

Ms Patel told MPs she was “very happy to discuss with the Ministry of Justice to see what more we can do” as she made a statement in the Commons on the major incident in Essex.

Police investigating the deaths of 39 people found in a refrigerated truck on an industrial estate in Essex have described the incident as an “absolute tragedy”.

Her comments came as Independent MP John Woodcock asked if Ms Patel would commit to reviewing the sentencing guidelines for human trafficking.

Mr Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) said: “There is of course a murder investigation into these sickening deaths, but is it not the case that every single human trafficker who subjects fellow human beings to these appalling conditions, does so knowing the risk of life to those people?

“And so in due course, will she commit to reviewing the sentencing guidelines for human trafficking. Is there not a case potentially to bring them into line with attempted murder where of course the maximum sentence is life imprisonment?”

Ms Patel replied: “What we have seen basically through the actions of these traffickers is the worst of humanity and it is right that we use our law enforcement and all aspects of the law through existing legislation to make sure that justice is served and that the perpetrators are prosecuted.

“He’s raised the point about sentencing and of course we have frameworks right now for the sentencing guidelines. It’s something that I’m very happy to discuss with the Ministry of Justice to see what more we can do.”