LONDON: Police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a truck near London said they had arrested three more suspects on Friday (Oct 25) on suspicion of human trafficking amid signs that some of the dead may be Vietnamese.
As forensic experts began the process of identifying the victims, the Vietnamese embassy in London said families from the southeast Asian country had got in touch about missing relatives. There were growing concerns at least 10 of the victims could have been from Vietnam.
Police have said they believe the dead were Chinese but Beijing said the nationalities had not yet been verified.
Police arrested a man and woman, both aged 38, in Warrington, northwest England, and a 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland at London's Stansted Airport. They are suspected of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter.
"We owe it to those who have died to get this investigation right and speculation is not helpful," Essex Police's Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills told reporters. "It may in fact hinder our investigation and its progress."
She said they would not give any more details about the identities or nationalities of the victims until the formal identification process was complete.
Her officers were still questioning the 25-year-old truck driver on suspicion of murder following the discovery of the bodies in the back of his truck.
He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of Northern Ireland.
The victims - 31 men and eight women - are being moved to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near the industrial estate in Grays about 30km east of London where the bodies were found.
Postmortem examinations were beginning to determine how exactly they died while the lengthy process of identifying the deceased was underway.
Hoa Nghiem from Human Rights Space, a civic network based in Vietnam, said at least one of the deceased might have been Vietnamese.
In a text message addressed to her mother, Pham Thi Tra My, 26, said she could not breathe at about the time the truck container was en route from Belgium to Britain, Hoa said.
"I'm sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn't succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I'm dying bcoz I can't breathe ... I'm from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam ... I am sorry, Mom," the message said according to Hoa.
She said Tra My had gone to China and was planning to reach England via France.
"Our contact is getting more alerts that there could be more Vietnamese people in the truck," Hoa said on Twitter.
VietHome, an organisation for the Vietnamese community, said it had received news from 10 families that their loved ones were missing. Hanoi's London embassy was coordinating with British police, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.
For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.
BRITAIN 'HAS NOT FULFILLED RESPONSIBILITY'
China's Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in a Friday editorial that Britain should bear some responsibility for the deaths.
"It is clear that Britain and relevant European countries have not fulfilled their responsibility to protect these people from such a death," the widely read tabloid said.
It added that Britain appeared not to have learned its lesson from the Dover incident two decades ago.
The police investigation is focused on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found, and on who was behind the suspected human trafficking.
Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on Oct 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.
The refrigeration unit had travelled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town's chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived in the Belgian port.
The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49pm local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour sea crossing to Britain.
Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, crossing the Irish Sea by ship and entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.
The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organised crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.
The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were "upping their game" and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain's planned exit from the European Union.