Police begin moving 39 bodies from trailer as NI man held on suspicion of murder

Police have begun the task of moving the 39 bodies found in a refrigerated trailer attached to a lorry in Essex as a 25-year-old man remains in custody on suspicion of murder.

Detectives were granted more time to question the driver of the truck, named locally as Mo Robinson from Northern Ireland, after eight women and 31 men were discovered dead on Wednesday.

All were believed to be Chinese nationals.

On Thursday evening, the first 11 victims were moved by a private ambulance with a police escort from the Port of Tilbury to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

The remaining bodies will be transported in stages, with police expecting all the victims to be moved to hospital by the end of the week.

Post-mortem examinations will be carried out, but police warned the investigation will take “some considerable time”.

Essex Police Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said he had the “utmost confidence” in his officers as the force leads its largest-ever murder investigation.

Irish police are conducting follow-up inquiries in relation to the registrations and movements of the refrigerated container and the Irish-owned truck.

Three addresses have been searched in Northern Ireland as part of the probe.

Councillor Paul Berry said the village of Laurelvale, where the Robinson family live, was in “complete shock”.

Irish company Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) confirmed it owned the refrigerated part of the lorry and a spokesman said the company was “shellshocked” and “gutted” by the news.

The firm said the trailer had been leased on October 15 from its rentals yard in Co Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland, at a rate of 275 euro (£237) a week.

It said it provided police with information about the person and company that leased the trailer, as well as offering to make tracking data available.

The trailer arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and the front section to which it was attached, known as the tractor, came from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am and officers were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays at 1.40am.

Questions have been raised about when the victims entered the sealed refrigerated trailer, where temperatures can be as low as -25C, as well as the full route of the unit.

Joachim Coens, chief executive of Zeebrugge port, from where the lorry trailer departed, said it was unlikely people were loaded into the container at the Belgian site.

Mayor Dirk De Fauw, also the chairman of the port of Zeebrugge, said it was “virtually impossible” the victims went into the trailer at the Belgian border.

He told Belgian media: “Each trailer is systematically checked to look for outward signs of damage. Then it is sealed. Trailers are filmed until they are on the ferry.

“In the terminals too there are cameras. Breaking the seal, putting 39 people in a trailer and resealing the trailer without anybody noticing is virtually impossible.”

A spokesman for C.RO Ports, which operates terminals at Purfleet and Zeebrugge, said the firm would “fully assist” the police investigation, while the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Lui Xioaming, said the Chinese embassy had sent a team to Grays to meet with police.

Vigils have been held in London and Belfast to pay tribute to the victims and a book of condolences has been opened in Grays.

Community in ‘complete shock’ over truck driver’s arrest

Residents of the rural village where Mo Robinson lived are hoping the truck driver is an innocent party in the container deaths horror, a councillor has said.

The community of Laurelvale in Co Armagh, where Mr Robinson’s parents live, was said to be in “complete shock” in the wake of his arrest on suspicion of the murder of the 39 Chinese nationals found dead in a refrigeration container at an industrial park in Essex.

Councillor Paul Berry said the family was very well respected in the area, and people were struggling to take in the enormity of Wednesday’s events in south-east England.

“In the local area the feeling is one of complete shock and hope this is not a true story in terms of his involvement,” he said.

Mr Robinson is understood to have moved to a house on the outskirts of nearby Markethill recently.

The detached property in the Co Armagh countryside and the semi-detached family home in a development in Laurelvale were searched by police officers from Northern Ireland on Wednesday night as part of the investigation led by Essex Police.

There was no answer at the family home throughout Wednesday, with neighbours insisting no-one was in.

On Thursday, a neighbour in Mullaghbrack Road, just outside Markethill, said Mr Robinson had only been living in the house for a few months.

He described the picturesque property as one of the original gate lodges for nearby Gosford Castle, adding that it had recently been renovated and placed on the market.

A property website contains a now expired listing for the house, which it called Drumlack Gate Lodge.

The neighbour said he had never spoken to Mr Robinson but had noticed the red lorry unit parked beside the house.

“If it had been a car I wouldn’t have noticed it, but the fact it was dominant beside that property, you tended to notice it,” he said.

The Robinson family are well known in the area and are heavily involved with local football club Laurelvale FC.

Mr Robinson’s passion for truck driving is clear from his social media posts.

Pictures of a red and white Scania feature prominently.

Like the vehicle at the centre of the police probe, it has an “ultimate dream” sticker on the windscreen.

The dog-loving trucker, who attended Southern Regional College in Co Armagh, is known to have worn a cowboy style hat when at the wheel.

Mr Berry has been in contact with Mr Robinson’s father several times since the arrest.

He said the father initially learned of his son’s detention through social media.

“He had said he had been getting messages via people on social media on what was happening and at that stage it was not confirmed to him or his family that his son had been arrested,” said the independent representative.

“The local community is hoping that he has been caught up innocently in this matter but that’s in the hands of Essex Police, and we will leave it in their professional hands to try to catch the perpetrators of this.”

Mr Berry, who expressed his sympathies for those who had died, said the Robinson family had been left upset by the “unwelcome spotlight” the incident had shone on them.

“It was very distressing for the family as they just felt they were captive in their own home,” he said.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture – A vigil takes places outside the Home Office in Westminster, London, for the 39 people found dead inside a lorry in Essex (c) Hollie Adams / PA Wire.