Searches in Armagh after 39 migrants found dead in truck in Essex

Truck driver (25) from North arrested in connection with mass murder investigation

A murder investigation has begun after 39 bodies were found inside a container on a Bulgarian-registered lorry at an industrial estate in Essex in southern England.

Police in England were last night attempting to identify 39 people who were found dead in a refrigerated trailer that was briefly transported by a truck driver from Northern Ireland.

The emergency services were contacted about the discovery in Grays, Essex 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.

The only suspect arrested to date, a man (25) living in Co Armagh, was being questioned on Wednesday night by Essex Police in connection with the matter, which is being treated as mass murder.

Police officers in Northern Ireland undertook two search operations in Co Armagh on Wednesday night linked to the investigation.


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.


However, it was not clear if anyone knew the victims were in the refrigerated trailer before it was opened.

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.

Pippa Mills, Essex Police deputy chief constable, said the 39 victims’ identities were still unknown.

“Early indications suggest that one of these people was a teenager, the rest are believed to be adults. 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.

The force initially said the truck entered Britain via Holyhead on Saturday, suggesting it had come from Ireland, but later clarified its movements after further investigations.

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.

Alarm raised

The Northern Irish driver collected the trailer from Thurrock at about 1.05am and the alarm was raised at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, about 3km from Thurrock, just before 1.30am. The truck and the bodies were later moved to the nearby Tilbury Docks to begin the identification process.

British prime minister Boris Johnson described the discovery as “an unimaginable and truly heartbreaking tragedy” and said that those responsible “should be hunted down”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to the emergency workers 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.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times