A spokesman for Co Monaghan-based Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) has confirmed that it owns the refrigerated trailer in which the 39 Chinese nationals were found dead in Essex on Wednesday.
The company said it was unaware that the trailer was to be used in the manner in which it appears to have been. GTR has been in contact with police in Essex from early on Wednesday after it became aware that one of its trailers had been involved in this incident, said the spokesman.
Details of the arrangement under which the trailer was leased have been given to the police, the spokesman added. He also confirmed that GTR’s trailers are fitted with tracking devices and the company is happy to release all this information to police upon request.
Police earlier confirmed that the 39 people found dead in the back of the lorry are believed to be Chinese nationals.
There were eight women and 31 men among the fatalities in Grays, Essex, on Wednesday.
Of these, 38 are believed to be adults and one is a young woman, according to police.
Officers investigating the deaths have been given more time to question the 25-year-old driver of the lorry who lives in Armagh. The matter is being treated as mass murder.
"Detectives investigating the murder of 39 people in Grays have secured a warrant of further detention from local magistrates at Basildon for a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland. The man, a lorry driver, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and will now remain in custody for up to an additional 24 hours," said police.
Deputy chief constable Pippa Mills added: “We continue to ask journalists and those on social media not to speculate about the identity of the lorry driver. This is an incredibly sensitive and high-profile investigation and we are working swiftly to gather as full a picture as possible as to how these people lost their lives.
“Our recovery of the bodies is ongoing and the postmortem and identification processes, which will be lengthy and complex, can then begin. Our number one priority is the preserving the dignity of the 39 people who have died and ensuring that we get answers for their loved ones.”
Three properties in Co Armagh have been searched in connection with the investigation.
The lorry has been removed from the industrial park to allow for the next stage of the investigation. Each of the deceased must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish cause of death.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said An Garda Síochána will co-operate with the investigation.
“This is an issue that comes right into our own lives, into the UK and the investigation that’s under way . . . will have the absolute and full co-operation of An Garda Síochána.”
The emergency services were contacted about the discovery in the early hours of Wednesday. And investigators in Britain and Ireland have since been attempting to establish how the people, believed to be migrants, came to be in the trailer.
It was initially suspected that the victims had been trafficked into Britain through the Republic, passing through two Irish ports. But the Garda and Essex Police later ruled out that possibility.
Gardaí are trying to establish if the people behind a now-defunct Irish haulage business own the truck at the centre of the case. Detectives believe the people who owned that company registered another haulage business, and vehicles, in Bulgaria.
This may have been done in an attempt to continue trading as an international operator, while employing the man arrested in Essex.
Rod McKenzie of Britain’s Road Haulage Association said trafficking gangs are removing the back hinges of lorry doors without the driver’s knowledge to transport migrants.
“Migrants are put on board and then the hinges are screwed up again without the driver’s knowledge, perhaps while he is asleep or through some other circumstances.
Mr McKenzie said when drivers do their regular “walkaround” checks of their lorry “there won’t be any obvious evidence of tampering of the locks, the classic thing of the locks being jemmied open”.
He said “most drivers are extremely diligent about doing walkaround checks and flagging to authorities if they believe something untoward has happened”.
The Chinese embassy has said it had a heavy heart after hearing the news.
“We are in close contact with the British police to seek clarification and confirmation of the relevant reports,” it said.
Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov said the truck had not entered his country since 2017.
Detectives in Dublin have established that the arrested man departed Dublin Port for Holyhead last Saturday and came back later that day before leaving again for Holyhead the following day.
The trailer that the bodies were found in was carried on a sailing that arrived from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Purfleet in Essex late on Tuesday.
It said the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge into Purfleet and docked in the Thurrock area, about 9km from Purfleet, shortly after 12.30am on Wednesday. – Additional reporting from PA