The bodies of 39 people were found stuffed into the back of a refrigerated truck in a “sickening” case being linked to human trafficking.
The bodies, including 38 adults and one teenager, were discovered in the early hours Wednesday in southeastern England in a truck registered in Bulgaria, The Associated Press reports.
Essex Police believe the large cargo truck came into the country from Ireland and was found in the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays.
The 25-year-old driver of the truck has been arrested on suspicion of murder, according to the BBC. Although his name has not been released, he is being described as a man from Northern Ireland.
Authorities have declined to release the gender of the victims and are working now to try to identify the dead.
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills has said it will likely be a “lengthy process.”
The National Crime Agency has also sent its officers to aid in the investigation to determine whether any “organized crime groups” may have played a part in the tragedy.
Authorities have not formally linked the deaths to human trafficking; however, Parliament member Jackie Doyle-Price linked the deaths to trafficking in a tweet not long after the grisly discovery.
“Sickening news of 39 people found dead in a container in Grays. People trafficking is a vile and dangerous business. This is a big investigation for @EssexPoliceUK. Lets hope they bring these murders to justice,” she wrote.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said the conditions inside the refrigerated truck—where temperatures could have dipped to as low as -25C—were “absolutely horrendous,” according to the BBC.
Police were called to the scene around 1:40 a.m. by ambulance staff, according to the AP. It is not known how the workers discovered the bodies.
“This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives. Our enquiries are ongoing to establish what has happened,” Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner told the media.
Bulgarian authorities have confirmed the truck was registered in the country, but have said the truck was registered under the name of a company owned by an Irish citizen.
It’s not known where the truck’s journey began or where the 39 people dead inside originated from.
It’s believed the truck began its journey from somewhere in Europe and then entered Britain from Ireland via ferry, the AP reports.
It was a route that was “unorthodox,” and may have afforded the traffickers less security checks, according to Seamus Leheny, the Northern Ireland policy manager for the Freight Transport Association.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the gruesome discovery an “unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking.”
In a tweet Wednesday, he said he had been “appalled” by the news of the deaths.
“My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives & their loved ones,” he wrote.
It is not the first time authorities have encountered such a high death count in cases related to human trafficking. Four human traffickers were sentenced to life in prison earlier this year after the bodies of 71 migrants were found in the back of a truck abandoned in Austria, CNN reports.
The bodies of 58 Chinese migrants were also found in a truck crossing to Britain from the Netherlands in 2000.
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