Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

Driver charged over deaths of 39 people found in a lorry in the UK

Maurice Robinson, 25, also faces charges of conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering

UK police have charged a man with 39 counts of manslaughter in connection with the bodies of 31 men and 8 women found on Wednesday in south-east England in the container of the lorry he was driving.

Maurice Robinson, 25 and from Northern Ireland, also faces charges of conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering. He is expected in court on Monday.

He was the first of those arrested to be charged in what is regarded as one of the UK's biggest cases of people smuggling. Another three people have been detained in relation to the investigation.

The authorities have appealed to the public for help as they struggle to confirm the identity and nationalities of those who died. Initial reports said they came from China but it is now believed that at least some may be from Vietnam.

“If you come to us, we will do all we can to put our arm around you and take you through this process, and establish as quickly as possible whether or not we have your loved ones involved in this tragic incident, and try and reunite you,” said Martin Pasmore of Essex Police.

“It may well be people are here illegally and they want to come forward with information or concerns, particularly if they believe their loved one is involved. We want to identify their loved ones and reunite but they are frightened.

“We understand some people may be frightened but I hope people will put trust in me and make that leap of faith – Essex Police will not look to take any action against you,” he added.

Police in the English county of Essex said the case is the largest mass fatality victim identification process in its history. All of the victims appear to have belongings of some description. More than 500 exhibits have already been identified.

Officials at Vietnam’s embassy in London said they did not have official confirmation of the identity of the 39 who died but added that they remained in close contact with the UK authorities.

Several families in Vietnam told AFP on Saturday that they feared their relatives were among the dead, including the father of a 20-year-old who received a call from a Vietnamese man in the UK who told him his son died on the way to Britain.

"I fell to the ground when I heard that," Nguyen Dinh Gia said. "It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead."

The container in which the bodies were found left a port in Belgium on Tuesday, arriving in the UK early on Wednesday. It was then met by the lorry cab, believed to have been driven by Mr Robinson.

Updated: October 27, 2019 08:48 AM