Three people arrested in connection with the deaths of 39 people found in a refrigerated lorry container in Essex have been released on bail, police said.
A 38-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman from Warrington have been released on bail until November 11, while a 46-year-old arrested in Northern Ireland has been bailed until November 13, Essex Police said. All three had been questioned on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people.
The news comes as it was feared that a 19-year-old Vietnamese woman was among the eight women and 31 men found in the trailer in an industrial park in Grays in the early hours of Wednesday.
Bui Thi Nhung’s mother and sister believe the teenager paid thousands of pounds to travel to the UK from the village of Yen Thanh in north-central Vietnam in the hope of finding work in a nail bar.
Truck driver Maurice Robinson, 25, known as Mo, from Northern Ireland, has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering. He is due to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on Monday.
Three people arrested in connection with our investigation into the deaths of 39 people whose bodies were found in #Grays have been released on bail.— Essex Police (@EssexPoliceUK) October 27, 2019
Two men, aged 38 and 45, and a 38 year-old woman were arrested last week.
Read more: https://t.co/mbiyDMUded pic.twitter.com/VFvWlsk5T4
As Essex Police launched “the largest mass fatality victim identification process” in the force’s history, reports suggested that first responders found bloody handprints on the doors of the container - believed to be where the migrants inside were banging and trying to get out.
A source told the Mirror: “There were bloody handprints all along the inside of the lorry door where they must have been banging for help.”
Police initially believed the victims were Chinese nationals but it is now thought they may be Vietnamese.
VietHome – a website for Vietnamese people in the UK – said it has passed on the pictures of almost 20 people who have been reported missing to police.
Bui Thi Nhung’s family aren’t the only relatives to have come forward amid fears their loved one was among the victims.
Relatives of 26-year-old Pham Tra My told the BBC they have not been able to contact her since she sent a text on Tuesday night saying: “I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed. I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother.”
Her father Pham Van Thin told media that the family had tried to talk her out of going, but she had insisted to help the family get out of debt. He said if he had known how dangerous the route was, he would never had agreed to it.
Another Vietnamese father, Nguyen Dinh Gia, fears his 20-year-old son, Nguyen Dinh Luong, was among the victims.
It is thought the migrants came from an area in Vietnam that has struggled since a chemical spill wiped out its fishing industry in 2016, leading to people wanting to move away to find work.
The Vietnamese Embassy in London has started a hotline while the ambassador to the UK, Tran Ngoc An, spoke to Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday night before meeting investigators from the National Crime Agency and Essex Police.
Police said they are investigating a wider conspiracy after claims emerged that the lorry could have been part of a convoy of three carrying around 100 people.
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore said there were “very, very few” identity documents recovered and police will share fingerprints with Vietnamese authorities in a bid to identify the bodies, which have been moved to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford for post-mortem examinations to be carried out.
Three other people arrested over the deaths remain in custody, while a man wanted in connection with the investigation was arrested at Dublin port on Saturday and held over an unrelated outstanding court order.
A 48-year-old man, from Northern Ireland, was detained at Stansted Airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter.
Officers earlier arrested a couple named locally as haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both 38, in Warrington, on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.
It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.