A Northern Irish lorry driver is believed to have picked up a refrigerated container in Essex just minutes before the bodies of 39 people were found inside.
Mo Robinson, 25, is believed to have driven from his home in a small village near Portadown, Northern Ireland, over the weekend and collected the trailer from the port of Purfleet late last night.
His lorry was later seen driving into the Waterglade Industrial Park in Thurrock, where ambulance crews and police attended and found 39 people dead in the back, including a teenager.
The trailer was delivered to Purfleet by ship from the Belgian Port of Zeebrugge at around midnight last night. CCTV shows Robinson driving into the industrial estate at 1.10am and the police were called around half an hour later. The origin of the container before it got to Purfleet is not known.
Robinson regularly posts about the Bulgarian-registered Scania truck on his Instagram and Facebook pages, referring to it as ‘the Scandinavian Express’ and ‘the Polar Express’.
The lorry was reportedly registered in Bulgaria by an Irish company in 2017, then driven out of the eastern-European country to Northern Ireland.
A haulage boss in Northern Ireland told MailOnline: ‘I’ve been told that Mo Robinson was the one who was driving the truck, but he doesn’t own it. It’s owned by a local lorry business.’
Mo Robinson is the truck driver arrested after 39 people were found dead in the back of a lorry he was driving
Reports in Ireland suggest Robinson drove over to the UK in the cab of the lorry only. He is believed to have picked up the trailer in Essex shortly before the bodies were discovered.
Robinson regularly posts photos of the Bulgarian-registered truck online. It is not however thought that he owns the vehicle
Among his many messages about the Scania lorry, he refers to it as ‘the Scandinavian express’ and ‘the polar express’
Police have found 39 dead bodies in the back of a lorry container on an Essex industrial estate. The lorry appears to have a refrigeration unit between the cab and the container leading haulage experts to suggest those inside may have frozen to death
Footage recorded by a business on the Waterglade Industrial Park, Thurrock shows the left-hand drive truck passing through the estate just half an hour before an ambulance crew discovered the bodies of 38 adults and a teenager in the back.
Social media posts suggest Robinson makes frequent trips to Denmark and Sweden, which would require driving through Britain. It is not known where he was told to deliver this container to.
The lorry’s trailer is understood to be refrigerated, meaning temperatures inside could have been as low as -25C.
Describing the conditions inside, Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said, if the was refrigerated was switched on, conditions inside would have been ‘absolutely horrendous’ and would kill anyone inside ‘pretty quickly’.
Mr Burnett added: ‘It’s going to be dark. If the fridge is running it’s going to be incredibly cold.
‘The only place to go to the toilet is on board the back of the trailer. You can imagine if they’ve been in there for days then there will be faeces, there will be urine.’
The deaths will lead to renewed calls for added checks on vehicles entering Britain through so-called ‘soft spot’ ports, with Border Force resources currently focused on Dover.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is ‘appalled’ by the tragedy and that his thoughts are with those who lost their lives and their loved ones.
He tweeted: ‘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.’
The truck is a Scania with the words ‘Ireland’ and ‘The Ultimate Dream’ on the windscreen
Photos show the inside of the refrigerated trailer where 39 people were found dead in the early hours of this morning
Aerial pictures show screens have been put around the back of the white lorry, with forensics tents placed nearby. Police have not said where those who died are from
Police in forensics suits were seen worked on the cab end of the lorry, which is Bulgarian registered. It is not known where those found inside got in
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price said: ‘To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil. The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.’
Responding, Boris Johnson said: ‘It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those emergency services, as the right gentleman opposite (Jeremy Corbyn) said, as they were asked to open that container and to expose the appalling crime that had taken place.
‘I must say I do share her strong desire now for the perpetrators of that crime, and indeed all those who engage in similar activity – because we know that this trade is going on – all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice.’
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said any necessary investigations would be undertaken if it was established the lorry had passed through Ireland.
‘The information that we have so far this morning is very sketchy but there are some reports that the truck may have passed through Ireland at some point,’ he told the Dail parliament in Dublin.
It is the biggest disaster of its kind since 2000, when 58 Chinese stowaways died on a ferry from Belgium to Britain.
Today’s tragedy has claimed more victims than the Manchester Arena bombing, in which 22 were killed.
In 2015, 71 migrants, including eight women and four children, were found dead in the back of a Slovakian meat lorry which was abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway.
The industrial estate where the lorry was found today is next to the Dartford Crossing and is used as a stopping point for lorries travelling south to the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, although the planned route of the lorry involved is unknown.
The police have cordoned off the lorry while forensics experts gather evidence from the lorry
Large screens have been put up around the lorry while the murder investigation takes place
The migrant route to the UK through Ireland
Authorities were warned last year that people smugglers saw the Irish border as a weak point in the UK border and were taking migrants to Ireland before transporting them to Britain.
Traffickers see the Irish border as a weak point to get people in Britain, it emerged last year.
An Iranian man told the BBC how he was flown to Dublin, where there are deemed to be fewer and less rigorous checks, on a false passport, before being transported on to London.
An investigation found that, after getting to Ireland, migrants were being taken to Belfast and onto a ferry to Glasgow.
Migrants were being charged £10,000 each to make the whole journey.
The Irish border is more than 300 miles long with around 275 crossing points.
It is not known what happened in the current case.
Lithuanian lorry driver Tadas Cesnavicius works in the area.
The 40-year-old said: ‘You see a lot of lorries coming in and out the area, but whether they have people inside who knows?
‘It is terrible to hear it happened right in the next road.’
Emergency services sent five ambulances, their hazardous area response teams and a car from the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance to the scene.
A restaurant worker in the industrial estate said the area was cordoned off by police this morning.
‘There’s a lot of police and forensics,’ the Big Blue Food Bus employee said. ‘It’s awful. We thought maybe someone had broken into a lorry, but it’s just awful.’
Essex Police said it set up a casualty bureau for people to call if they are concerned about relatives following the incident at the industrial park in Grays.
Essex Police 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.
‘We believe the lorry is from Bulgaria and entered the country at Holyhead on Saturday, October 19 and we are working closely with our partners to investigate.
‘We have arrested the lorry driver in connection with the incident who remains in police custody as our enquiries continue.’
Police have not said where they believe the people had travelled from. They say it may take a long time to identify them all
Police and emergency services were called to the estate last night. They were unable to save any of those found in the container
The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the local MP have all stated their concern
Tragedy comes after trafficking gang jailing
Today’s tragedy comes less than a week after a Bulgarian trafficking gang were jailed for keeping women as sex slaves while they lived the high life.
Iliya Mihaylov and Marian Ninov Vasilev
Eleonora Vasileva, 34, Iliya Mihaylov, 31, and Marian Ninov Vasilev, also 34, trafficked women from their home country to squalid east London flats and forced them into a life of prostitution and Class A drug dealing.
Their victims were greeted at the airport, forced to pay £200 and then moved to rented apartments.
The group ran brothels across east London, and victims were rarely allowed to leave their squalid flats.
The women were expected to work 24 hours a day, accepting any ‘clients’ immediately and unconditionally, to whom they were also forced to sell class A drugs.
There is no suggestion the gang were involved in today’s tragedy.
The investigation will now try to work out where the people came from and what route they had taken to get to the UK.
Alp Mehmet, the chairman of the group Migration Watch UK, called on the government to better patrol Britain’s borders to ensure such tragedies were not repeated.
He said: ‘People-trafficking is a sickening business. It continues not only because the traffickers make huge amounts of money from it but are also often able to get away with it.
‘The risk is that more such tragedies will occur for so long as the UK fails to properly resource the border and return those who have no right to be here, which all but encourages traffickers to ply their trade by exploiting people who put their lives in their evil hands.’
Despite the investigation being at an early stage and it being unclear where the victims died, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has already blamed the British government.
The charity’s chief executive Satbir Singh said: ‘Nobody should be in any doubt that the ultimate responsibility for these deaths lies with government policy which has deliberately closed down safe and legal routes into Britain.’
Bulgarian foreign ministry spokesman Tsvetana Krasteva said: ‘We are in contact with our embassy in London and with British authorities.’
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said: ‘We are aware of this tragic incident which is now the subject of a murder investigation being led by Essex Police and we have deployed NCA officers to assist.
‘We are working with partners including Essex Police and Immigration Enforcement to provide specialist support to urgently identify and take action against any organised crime groups who might have played a role in causing these deaths.’
The Essex Police casualty bureau numbers are 0800 056 0944 for callers living in the UK, or 0207 158 0010 for people dialling from outside the UK, the force said.
The lorry is understood to have entered the UK at Holyhead, from where ferries arrive from Ireland, on Saturday
The worst disaster since 58 were killed in tomato lorry in Kent
Today’s incident in Essex has chilling echoes of a tragedy 19 years ago in Kent in which 58 Chinese stowaways died on the way from Belgium to Britain.
Customs officers discovered the bodies of 54 men and four women in the back of a tomato lorry which arrived in Dover on June 18, 2000.
The migrants had suffocated after their air vent was closed. Driver Perry Wacker was later jailed for 14 years for manslaughter.
A total of 58 Chinese migrants were killed in 2000 when they suffocated in the back of a tomato lorry arriving at the Port of Dover
The container lorry that carried dead asylum seekers into Dover docks in June 2000
He had shut the trailer’s air vent because he was worried about noise alerting Customs. Detectives believe Wacker would have received around £300 for each immigrant.
In August 2014, 36 Afghan Sikhs, including 15 children, were found inside a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex, close to today’s incident.
One man in the container, Meet Singh Kapoor, 40, died during an overnight crossing from Belgium.
Police said the group, who were part of the Sikh minority in their home country and were fleeing persecution there, had suffered a ‘horrendous ordeal’.
In 2016, two human traffickers were jailed for 17 years after being convicted at Basildon Crown Court of conspiracy to facilitate illegal entry into the UK.
The scene inside the container lorry in which 58 died at Dover in June 2000
The driver of that lorry was later jailed for 14 years for manslaughter. Right: A Daily Mail front page from the tragedy in Dover in 2000
Stephen McLaughlin, 49, and Martin McGlinchey, 36, were sentenced after the court heard Mr Kapoor’s family were forced to watch him die of natural causes.
In October 2001, a van load of 26 Sri Lankan refugees were found near to suffocation at Dover Docks after crossing from Calais in a van on a ferry.
The group, three of them women, were suffering from dehydration and the effects of breathing in fumes when they were discovered by Customs inspectors.
Police said at the time: ‘They had very little air left and time was running out for them. If it had been a little while later they were found, they may not have been alive.’
And in August 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in the back of a refrigerated lorry which was then dumped at the side of an Austrian motorway.
In 2015, 71 migrants including four children and a baby died in this meat lorry
Migrants from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan were among the victims who suffocated in the lorry in Hungary before it was found near Parndorf in Austria in 2015.
The group had made their way to the Serbian border with Hungary before being packed into the air-tight poultry lorry. Austrian police later found the bodies piled on top of each other.
The deaths in August 2015 led Germany’s Angela Merkel to say she would open the country’s borders to refugees, eventually allowing in more than one million people.
Today’s incident is thought to be the biggest case of mass murder in Britain for 14 years since the terror attacks on the London transport network on 7/7 in 2005, which left 56 dead including the four suicide bombers.
The death toll is also higher than that of tragedies such as the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, which left 23 people dead including attacker Salman Abedi.
The total is also well above that of the Dunblane school massacre near Stirling in Scotland in March 1996 in which 18 people died including shooter Thomas Hamilton.