- 38 adults and one teenage body found
- 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland arrested
- Lorry container appears to be refrigerated unit
- Temperatures in such units can be as low as -25C
- Bodies not yet identified
- Thought to have arrived in the country from Zeebrugge
- Police cordon in place at Waterglade Industrial Park
A murder investigation has been launched after the discovery of 39 dead bodies in a lorry container in Essex in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Early indications suggest 38 of the deceased are adults and one is a teenager.
A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
A cordon has been put in place and access to and from the Waterglade Industrial Park, Grays, where the lorry container was found, remains closed.
An Essex Police statement said: “Originally, we reported that the lorry had travelled into the country through Holyhead on Saturday 19 October.
“After further enquiries, we now believe that the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge into Purfleet, and docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12:30am this morning. The tractor unit of the lorry is believed to have originated in Northern Ireland.
“We believe the lorry and trailer left the port shortly after 1.05am.”
“The driver of the lorry, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, remains in custody having been arrested on suspicion of murder.
“A cordon has remained in place at Eastern Avenue for most of the day and this remains in place.”
At a press conference at Grays police station, deputy chief constable Pippa Mills said: “I’m unable to say at this stage how long the cordon will be in place.
“But please let me reassure you that my officers and partners will be doing everything they can to release the scene as soon as possible.”
Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said the container appeared to be a refrigerated unit and described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.
Temperatures in such units can be as low as -25C if frozen products are being transported, causing humans to “lose their lives pretty quickly”, he said.
He went on: “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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson 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.”
A restaurant worker in the industrial estate, who did not want to be named, said the area was cordoned off by police on Wednesday morning.
“There’s a lot of police and forensics,” the Big Blue Food Bus employee said.
“We’ve just seen what has been said online. It’s awful.
“We thought maybe someone had broken into a lorry, but it’s just awful.”
Glen Freeland, from GSF Car Parts which is close to where the bodies were found, said staff could not access the shop on Eastern Avenue on Wednesday morning.
“The manager went to get into work this morning and it was cordoned off and we’ve been moved to a different area,” Freeland said.
“All we know is they found the bodies in the back of a lorry.
“It was a bit of a shock but we’re not 100 per cent sure of what’s happened.”
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.”