Police were given more time on Thursday to question a driver arrested on suspicion of murder after 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, were found dead in a refrigerated truck near London, with the investigation focusing on human trafficking.
Officers searched three properties in the County Armagh area of Northern Ireland. The driver has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation said he was Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province.
Paramedics and police found the bodies of 31 men and eight women on Wednesday in a truck container on an industrial estate at Grays in Essex, about 30 km east of London.
For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland.
In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover.
“We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement.
Police were given permission by magistrates to detain the 25-year-old driver for an additional 24 hours on Thursday.
The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organized crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.
Shaun Sawyer, national spokesman for British police on human trafficking, said thousands of people were seeking to come to the United Kingdom illegally. While they were able to rescue many of those smuggled in, Britain was perceived by organized crime as a potentially easy target for traffickers.
“You can’t turn the United Kingdom into a fortress. We have to accept that we have permeable borders,” he told BBC radio.
Police say 39 dead in truck near London believed to be Chinese