LONDON: The bodies of 39 people were found inside a truck container at an industrial estate in the east of London on Wednesday (Oct 23), British police said.
UK police said on Thursday that all the victims were believed to be Chinese nationals.
Police said the truck was believed to have come from Bulgaria and entered Britain on Saturday at Holyhead, a North Wales port that is a major entry point for traffic from Ireland.
The driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, has been arrested on suspicion of murder, police said.
CRIME SCENE SEALED OFF
Police officers in forensic suits were on Wednesday inspecting a large white container on a red truck next to warehouses at the site. Police had sealed off the surrounding area of the industrial estate with large green barriers as they carried out their investigation.
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.
"We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process.
The discovery was made in the early hours after emergency services were alerted to people in the container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, located by the River Thames about 20 miles from central London.
Ambulance services said the victims were already dead by the time they arrived.
The 39 victims, 38 adults and one teenager, were all pronounced dead at the scene.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER APPALLED BY INCIDENT
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled by the news and was receiving regular updates about the investigation.
"We know that this trade is going on - all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice," he said.
"My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives & their loved ones."
"Such tragic news on loss of life," Brandon Lewis, a junior interior minister said on Twitter. "Thoughts are with victims, their families & friends. Police are working to ensure those responsible are brought to justice."
Britain's interior minister Priti Patel said she was "shocked and saddened" by the news.
"Essex Police has arrested an individual and we must give them the space to conduct their investigations," she said on Twitter.
Bulgaria's foreign ministry said had been in contact with the British authorities over the incident.
"At present, it has not yet been confirmed whether the truck has a Bulgarian registration," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. "There is also no indication of the nationality of the human bodies found in the truck. British police have warned that the identification of the bodies will take a long time."
The truck discovered on Thursday is left-hand drive, indicating that it was not British or Irish.
NO CHECKS ON MOVEMENT OF GOODS BETWEEN UK, IRELAND
The tragedy sparked questions about the route taken by the truck - and whether people trafficking had played a part.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Irish authorities would carry out any investigations necessary if it was established that the truck had passed through Ireland.
The UK and the Republic of Ireland are not in the European Union's no-borders Schengen zone but have their own historic Common Travel Area, meaning there are no checks on the movement of goods or people between the two.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association which represents truck drivers in Britain, said: "Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased but whatever the circumstances, it highlights the danger of migrant gangs people-smuggling on lorries."
Jackie Doyle-Price, the MP representing the local Thurrock constituency surrounding Grays, said the news was "sickening".
"People trafficking is a vile and dangerous business," she said.
"Let's hope they bring these murderers to justice."
For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in the back of trucks, often seeking to reach the United Kingdom from the European mainland.
In Britain's biggest illegal immigrant tragedy in 2000, British customs officials found the bodies of 58 Chinese people crammed into a tomato truck at the southern port of Dover.
In 2014, staff at the Tilbury container port - next to Grays - heard screaming and banging coming from inside a shipping container, and found 34 Afghan Sikhs alive inside suffering from severe dehydration, hypothermia and lack of air.
One man was found dead, having passed away during the sea crossing from Belgium.
In August 2015, at the peak of Europe's migration crisis, the bodies of 71 migrants including a baby girl were found piled up in the back of a poultry refrigerator lorry left in Austria.
Investigations later revealed they had been transported along the Balkan migrant route and left to suffocate in the back of the truck after the driver dumped the vehicle near the Hungarian border.