Refrigerated trailer tragedy sparks questions about port vehicle checks

Peterborough, UK: The Road Haulage Association has highlighted lax vehicle checks at some UK ports, which are making them attractive to people-smuggling gangs, after 39 migrants were found dead in a refrigerated trailer in Essex.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “The checking procedures at Calais and Coquelles are pretty robust. Traffickers are targeting ports without the same levels of security.”

Tom Dowdall, deputy director of the National Crime Agency (NCA), said in October last year that improved security in France meant the smugglers were targeting easier routes through ports like Zeebrugge.

The NCA also warned that there had been a sharp rise in the number of migrants using “higher risk methods of clandestine entry” to the UK such as refrigerated HGVs and containers as well as small boats.

Burnett said that the conditions inside the refrigerated trailer as would have been “absolutely horrendous” and would kill anyone inside “pretty quickly”.

“Refrigerated trailers are built to be airtight,” said Burnett. ”If chilled, the trailer temperature will be set to minus 5C, if it’s frozen, you’re talking about minus 25C. There’s little or no chance of survival if you’re in those conditions for any length of time.”

The RHA points out that there are many unanswered questions about the incident. “Who discovered the migrants?” asks Burnett. “Who alerted the police? We need clarity.”

Essex Police said the refrigerated trailer arrived via ferry from Zeebrugge, Belgium, into Purfleet on the River Thames. The ship docked in the Thurrock area shortly after 12.30am on Wednesday, the force said. It is believed the lorry then left the port about 35 minutes later. It drove to an industrial estate in nearby Grays, Essex where the bodies, understood to be Vietnamese nationals, were then discovered.

A spokesman for the Bulgarian foreign affairs ministry confirmed the truck was registered in the country. “The Scania truck was registered in Varna (on the east coast) under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen,” he said. “Police said that it is highly unlikely that they are Bulgarians,” he added. The force said it believed the tractor unit had come from Northern Ireland.

The lorry driver, from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, was arrested on suspicion of murder. Essex police are also looking for two brothers, Ronan and Christopher Hughes, who are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking.

According to the Telegraph, police are investigating a suspected Irish people-smuggling ring.

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