UK police expand probe, say 39 dead in truck all from China

LONDON (AP) – All 39 people found dead in a refrigerated container truck near an English port were Chinese citizens, British police confirmed yesterday as they investigated one of the country’s deadliest cases of people smuggling.

The Essex Police force said 31 men and eight women were found dead in the truck early on Wednesday at an industrial park in Grays, a town 40 kilometres east of London.

The 25-year-old truck driver, who is from Northern Ireland, was being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder but has not been charged.

Police in Northern Ireland also searched three properties as they sought to piece together how the truck’s cab, its container and the victims came together on such a deadly journey.The truck and container apparently took separate journeys before ending up at the industrial park. British police said they believe the container went from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Purfleet, England, where it arrived early on Wednesday and was picked up by the truck driver and driven the few miles to Grays.

The truck cab, which is registered in Bulgaria to a company owned by an Irish woman, is believed to have come from Northern Ireland, then headed to Dublin to catch a ferry to Wales before driving across Britain to pick up the container.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Chinese embassy employees in the UK were driving to the scene of the crime to aid the investigation and Belgian police were trying to track down information from Zeebrugge. Groups of migrants have repeatedly landed on English shores using small boats for the risky Channel crossing, and migrants are sometimes found in the trunks of cars that disembark from the massive ferries that link France and England. But Wednesday’s macabre find in an industrial park was a reminder that criminal gangs are still profiting from large-scale trafficking.

The tragedy recalls the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants who suffocated in a truck in Dover, England after a perilous, months-long journey from China’s southern Fujian province.