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By Amanda Ferguson
BELFAST, Nov 1 (Reuters) - British police, investigating deaths of 39 people found dead in the back of a truck near London last week, made a direct appeal on Friday to two brothers from Northern Ireland to hand themselves in to detectives.
Police say Ronan Hughes and his brother Christopher are crucial to their inquiries into the discovery of the bodies of 31 men and eight women in the container on an industrial estate in Grays, to the east of the British capital.
The brothers are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking and Daniel Stoten, the officer leading the police inquiry, said they had spoken by telephone to Ronan Hughes recently but they needed to question them in person.
"Today I want to make a direct appeal. Ronan and Christopher, hand yourselves in to the Police Service of Northern Ireland," Detective Chief Inspector Stoten said.
"We need you both to come forward and assist this investigation."
The discovery of the bodies has shone a spotlight on the illicit trade that sends the poor of Asia, Africa and the Middle East on perilous journeys to the West.
Police originally said the victims were believed to be Chinese but Vietnam fears many of the deceased were its citizens.
The bodies were found in the early hours of Oct. 23 after the container arrived in Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium. The container was picked up at Purfleet dock, east of London, by a truck allegedly driven by Maurice Robinson, who is from Northern Ireland.
On Monday, Robinson, 25, appeared in court accused of manslaughter, money laundering, conspiracy to traffic people and conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration.
Stoten said Ronan Hughes, 40, and Christopher, 34, from Armagh in Northern Ireland were known to have links in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the haulage and shipping industries.
Global Trailer Rentals (GTR), the owner of the trailer, said Ronan Hughes had signed the papers to rent the container.
"The lease document was signed by Ronan Hughes, who gave an address matching that of the haulier, C Hughes Transport," the lawyers for GTR told Reuters. Christopher Hughes is listed as a director of C Hughes Logistics Ltd based in Armagh. (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood)