British Police forensics officers work on a truck, found to be containing 39 dead bodies, on October 23 2019. Picture: AFP/BEN STANSALL
British Police forensics officers work on a truck, found to be containing 39 dead bodies, on October 23 2019. Picture: AFP/BEN STANSALL

Grays — Police investigating the deaths of 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, found in a truck near London say they have arrested two people on Friday on suspicion of human trafficking and continue to quiz the driver as a murder suspect.

As China called on Britain to seek “severe punishment” for those involved in the deaths, police said they have detained a man and a woman in Warrington, northwest England, on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and of 39 counts of manslaughter

The truck driver from Northern Ireland remains in custody after being arrested following the grim discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation named him as Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offence, release him or ask a court for more time to question him.

Late on Thursday, British authorities moved 11 of the victims — 31 men and eight women — 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.

Post-mortem examinations are underway to determine exactly how they died, while forensic experts are trying to identify the deceased, which police warned would be a lengthy process.

The Chinese embassy in London said it has sent a team to Essex, and Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the police have not yet been able to verify the nationalities of the deceased.

“We hope that the British side can, as soon as possible, confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” she told a daily news briefing.

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.

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.

Reuters