Police have said that 38 of the bodies were adults and one was a teenager
The victims were found crammed into the truck’s container, causing speculation of a people trafficking incident. Police have not confirmed the link, but have made an initial arrest.
The truck was found at an industrial park in Grays, east of London, by ambulance workers.
“This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives,” Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner from Essex police said in a statement. “Emergency services arrived but sadly, 39 people were pronounced dead at the scene.”
Identifying victims a ‘lengthy process’
Authorities are now working to identify the 38 adults and one teenager.
Police have arrested the 25-year-old driver of the truck on suspicion of murder and he remains in police custody. He has not been charged or identified, but is reportedly from Northern Ireland.
A cordon has been put in place at Waterglade Industrial Park and access to and from the Park remains closed. Nearby businesses said they had been unable to enter their units due to the closure.
“We are in the process of identifying the victims, however I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process,” Mariner said.
Essex police are working with Thurrock Council to “mitigate against any impact” the investigation scene may have locally.
Truck traveled from Belgium
UK police believe the trailer of the truck traveled from Zeebrugge, Belgium, into the port of Purfleet in the east of England.
It then docked in the Thurrock area early Wednesday morning for 35 minutes before departing, Essex Police said in a statement.
Originally police reported the truck had reached its destination via Holyhead in Wales.
The tractor unit of the truck is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland, police said, amending a previous statement which claimed the trailer had originated in Ireland.
Bulgaria’s foreign minister said the truck, a Swedish-made Scania, is registered in Bulgaria’s Black Sea port city of Varna to a company owned by an Irish woman.
Despite the truck’s Bulgarian registration, Bulgaria has no connection to the deaths of the 39 people in the truck, the country’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Wednesday.
The truck had not entered the country since 2017.
Politicians ‘appalled’ and ‘shaken’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “appalled by this tragic incident in Essex,” adding that he will “work closely with Essex Police.”
I’m appalled by this tragic incident in Essex. I am receiving regular updates and the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened. My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives & their loved ones.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 23, 2019
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “deeply shaken by the news from Britain of the fate of 39 people who were crammed together inside a truck and died an agonizing death,” her spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
As the circumstances surrounding the deaths are investigated, “our resolve must be directed against those who organize and carry out such transports,” he continued.
An Interior Ministry spokesperson made clear that Germany would offer all the support it can to the UK investigation team. Germany lies on the transit route between Bulgaria, where the truck is registered, and the UK.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted she felt “shocked and saddened” by the event.
Source: mvb, mmc/rt,stb (AFP, AP, dpa, dw)