THE criminal investigation into the death of 39 people found dead in the back of a lorry in Purfleet enters its second day.
Police are continuing to question a lorry driver over 39 people found dead in the refrigerated trailer off Eastern Avenue in West Thurrock.
Officers in Northern Ireland have raided two houses and the National Crime Agency said it was working to identify “organised crime groups who may have played a part”.
The trailer arrived in Purfleet on the River Thames from Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Ambulance staff discovered the bodies in the container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays just after 01:30 BST on Wednesday. The lorry and trailer left the port at Purfleet shortly after 01:05.
Eric Van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, said an investigation into the incident was under way.
He added: “We have no idea at the moment how long the lorry spent in Belgium, it could be hours or days, we just don’t know.”
Police said the tractor unit (the front part of the lorry) came from Northern Ireland and picked up the trailer from Purfleet.
Essex Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said the vehicle had been moved to a secure site at Tilbury Docks so the bodies of the 38 adults and one teenager could be “recovered while preserving the dignity of the victims”.
The nationalities of the victims were not immediately known, with the police warning that the formal identification “could be a lengthy process”.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said temperatures in refrigerated trailers could be as low as -25C.
He described conditions for anyone inside as “absolutely horrendous”.
Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: “This is truly tragic news, but depressingly predictable and avoidable news. If you deny people safe and regular travel routes to find safety, you are leaving them with no choice but to risk their lives on utterly perilous journeys and in the hands of criminal gangs. These gangs are a symptom of a much deeper problem – namely Governments’ failure to provide safety to those who desperately need it.
“As long as we think the answer to this tragedy is about building high walls and impenetrable borders, this will keep happening. As we have done so many times before, we urge the Government to introduce safe and regular travel routes – such as, in the case of refugees, widening the definition of family members eligible to reunite under refugee family reunion rules. ”