Northern Ireland news

Trailer where 39 Chinese nationals were found dead was rented in Co Monaghan

Lorry driver Mo Robinson remained in custody in Essex yesterday over the deaths of 39 Chinese nationals found in a refrigerated trailer

A 25-YEAR-OLD man from Co Armagh is still being questioned by police in Essex about the deaths of 39 Chinese people found in a lorry.

Mo Robinson, from Laurelvale outside Portadown, was arrested early on Wednesday morning after the bodies of 31 men and eight women were discovered in a refrigerated container in an industrial park.

Essex Police were yesterday given an extra 24 hours to question Mr Robinson.

Following the arrest, the PSNI searched three properties near Portadown, including Mr Robinson's home in Markethill, where he moved recently with his partner, his parents' semi-detached home in Laurelvale and a third property in Armagh.

The trailer where the dead were found came from the port of Zebrugge in Belgium on Wednesday but the front section of the lorry came from Northern Ireland, through Holyhead in north Wales on Sunday.

It emerged yesterday that the refrigerated trailer was rented from an Irish company last week.

A spokesman for Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) told RTÉ that the trailer was leased from the company's yard in Co Monaghan at a rate of €275 per week.

The company said it had contacted Essex Police on Wednesday and given them information about the person and company that leased the trailer.

The company's directors said they are "shell-shocked" at the news.

In a statement yesterday, GTR said it was "entirely unaware that the trailer was to be used in the manner in which it appears to have been".

A friend of Mr Robinson yesterday urged other lorry drivers to support him on social media by adding a photo of their truck under the #supportMo.

"Saying check the trailer that's great but 99% of the time if you break a seal the load's rejected," he wrote.

The container lorry where 39 people were found dead inside leaves Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, heading towards Tilbury Docks under police escort on Wednesday. Picture by Aaron Chown, Press Association

A vigil for the 39 dead was held outside Belfast City Hall last night.

The lorry has been moved to a secure location in nearby Tilbury Docks to allow the bodies to be recovered.

"Each of the 39 people must undergo a full coroner’s process to establish a cause of death before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer," Essex Police said.

"This will be a substantial operation and, at this stage, we cannot estimate how long these procedures will take."

Officers are probing whether a criminal gang was involved in attempting to smuggle the people into the UK.

The trailer containing the 39 dead arrived at Purfleet from Zeebrugge in Belgium at around 12.30am on Wednesday.

The lorry tractor came through Holyhead on Sunday.

The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am on Wednesday. A short time later, it stopped at an industrial estate in Thurrock, Essex.

Police were called at 1.40am after they were alerted by ambulance staff.

It is not yet clear where the container came from before it entered Zeebrugge or when the people inside died.

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

He told the Flemish TV channel VRT: "A refrigerated container in the port zone is completely sealed."

Mr Coens added: "During the check, the seal is examined, as is the licence plate.

"The driver is checked by cameras."

Under EU rules, internal trading borders are effectively abolished between member states in relation to the trade of goods, with no duties paid when goods are transported from one EU country to another.

But experts have questioned the strength of customs checks following concerns about people smuggling.

The deaths of the 39 Chinese nationals come almost two decades after the bodies of 58 Chinese people were found in an air-tight container at Dover in Kent in 2000.

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