Essex: ‘It doesn’t matter who they are or what they are. It’s 39 people’s lives’
CCTV recorded lorry hauling trailer which contained bodies of people early Wednesday morning
Police forensics officers at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, after 39 bodies were found inside a lorry on the industrial estate. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
Green screens stood at either end of the red Scania lorry and its white container, shielding from view two low forensics tents and a white-clad team of investigators.
The lorry was parked on Eastern Avenue, a road in Waterglade Industrial Park that leads to the Lakeside shopping centre and a branch of Ikea.
“A lot of vehicles drop trailers here and a lot of vehicles park up overnight and things like that. So it’s not unusual to come along here and there can be seven or eight vehicles lined up here,” Kevin Wainford, who lives nearby, told The Irish Times.
This vast industrial park outside the Essex town of Grays is a sprawl of warehouses and industrial units, with lorries passing through day and night. At the top of Eastern Avenue stands the Big Blue Food Bus, a blue, double-decker bus that serves hot food 24 hours a day, attracting a steady supply of customers through the night.
There are CCTV cameras outside every industrial unit on the street and one of them recorded the red Scania lorry driving into Eastern Avenue after 1am on Wednesday morning.
When police arrived here less than an hour later following an ambulance call, they found the bodies of 39 people inside the container, one of whom was a teenager.
Outside the police station in Grays a few hours later Essex Police deputy chief constable Pippa Mills said the victims’ identities were still unknown. “Early indications suggest that one of these people was a teenager, the rest are believed to be adults.
A murder investigation was launched and the lorry driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody.
“At this stage we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities, and we anticipate that this could be a lengthy process,” she said.
What must that have been like, seeing people just dying in front of you?
Ms Mills said later that, although they initially reported that the lorry had travelled into Britain through Holyhead last Saturday, they now believed 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.
At Westminster, prime minister Boris Johnson described the discovery in Waterglade Industrial Park as “an unimaginable and truly heart-breaking tragedy”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to the emergency services who went to the scene to deal with the tragedy.
“All of us should just think for a moment about what it is like to be a police officer or a firefighter and about what it was like to open that container and have to remove 39 bodies from it and deal with them in an appropriate and humane way. We should just think for a moment about what inhumanity is done to other human beings at this terrible moment,” he said.
Home secretary Priti Patel said immigration officials were working closely with the police to find out what happened before the lorry arrived at its final destination and whether organised crime groups were involved.
“I’m shocked and saddened by this utterly tragic incident in Grays. My heart goes out to all those affected. Essex police has arrested an individual and we must give them the space to conduct their investigations. Home Office immigration officials will be working closely alongside them to establish how this horrific event came to happen,” she said.
As camera crews lined up behind the police cordon on Eastern Avenue on Wednesday afternoon, local resident Mr Wainford was thinking about the likely conditions inside the container, where the temperature could have been below -25 degrees.
“What must that have been like, seeing people just dying in front of you? And you know that’s going to happen to you because there’s no air in there,” he said.
“I just think it’s really sad. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they are. It’s 39 people’s lives, isn’t it? You know, they’ve all got families somewhere. Or is there a whole family in there? What must they be living in, to risk coming over here in a refrigerated lorry and run the risk of not making it? What must they be living like, wherever they’re from?”