A lorry driver has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter after the bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in a refrigerated trailer.
Maurice Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland has also been charged with conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering.
A young dad and aspiring nail technician are among the Vietnamese nationals believed to have lost their lives in the trailer of a truck Robinson was driving. It is thought the lorry carrying 39 migrants was part of a convoy of three lorries bringing more than 100 people to the UK.
Relatives of Anna Bui Thi Nhung, 19, said she paid £8,000 to be taken from Vietnam to the UK to work as a nail technician.
And the family of Nguyen Dinh Tu, whose wife and child remained in Vietnam, fear he was also in the trailer found in Essex.
Pictures of missing Vietnamese migrants have been passed to police investigating the deaths.
The Serious Crime Directorate was handed around 20 images obtained from families by community website Viethome.
Police initially believed the 39 dead were Chinese until the family of one missing Vietnamese migrant released their daughter’s text messages.
Pham Thi Tra My, 26, who is under five feet tall, said she was “dying because I can’t breathe” and apologised to her family, who said they paid £30,000 for her to be smuggled into the UK.
Another family in Vietnam then said their relative may be among the dead. Nguyen Dinh Gia has not spoken to his 20-year-old son Nguyen Dinh Luong since last week when he told his father he was trying to reach the UK by joining a group in Paris.
He said: “He often called home but I haven’t been able to reach him since last week.”
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it had instructed its London embassy to assist British police with the identification of victims. Police met the country’s UK ambassador yesterday.
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Pasmore, from Essex Police, said officers found “very, very few” papers among the victims.
He said the nationalities of the dead will not be confirmed until investigating officers examine post-mortem evidence. They will attempt to identify the victims using fingerprints and DNA, as well as by looking at distinguishing features such as teeth, tattoos or scars.
He said officers are also trying to establish “whether there is a wider conspiracy involved”.
A priest from a rural rice-growing community in Vietnam said he is in contact with families of missing migrants, and has been told more than 100 people from the impoverished area were travelling to the UK for a “new life”.
Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam said it is a “catastrophe” for the remote town of Yen Thanh, 180 miles south of Hanoi.
He said: “A few families confirmed the deaths of their relatives who are the victims of this tragic journey.”
The priest led 500 worshippers in prayers for the dead at a service on Saturday evening.
Last night Irish Police said they had detained a man in his 20s at Dublin Port who was of “interest” to Essex Police as part of its investigation.
On Friday a 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was detained at Stansted Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter, Essex Police said.
Officers had earlier arrested a couple, named locally as haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both 38, of Warrington.
In Belgium, police are hunting the driver who delivered the trailer to Zeebrugge, the port it left before arriving in the UK.
A spokesman from the Belgian prosecutor’s office said Belgian authorities were also working to “track the route of the container” and find anyone responsible for “collaborating with the transport”.
Drivers face daily battle to secure trailers from smugglers
Scots lorry drivers are facing daily attempts by people smugglers to carry out sophisticated break-ins to their trailers.
Operators say drivers are often unable to spot that their lorry has been tampered with.
Richard Burnett, CEO of the Road Haulage Association, the trade association for road transport and freight logistics operators, said: “It can happen when vehicles are in lorry parks overnight. They unbolt the top hinges on the trailer doors, drop the migrants in, then do the bolts back up so it looks like the vehicle hasn’t been tampered with.
“That leaves drivers wide open to penalties. The fine is £2,500 per migrant.”
He added: “We have been getting daily reports of drivers and vehicles being targeted by migrant traffickers on the continent. If I was driving a truck I’d be petrified.”
Colin Lawson, who has an Aberdeen haulage company and bought his first lorry in 1977, said drivers are facing unprecedented challenges.
He said: “Drivers have been in circumstances where migrants have been hidden in trucks and the driver knows nothing about it.
“Who would want to do runs to the continent with those risks? It’s not worth it for the drivers.
“They work on a day rate. It’s very competitive. Some can work for as little as £100 a day.”
One haulage company owner in the north east of Scotland, who asked not to be named, added: “These organised crime gangs are very sophisticated.
“It’s a big problem for the continental drivers.
“They can be prosecuted and face heavy fines, but the vast majority of drivers don’t know anything about it.”
Scots link to lorry deaths smuggling operation
Chinese people-smugglers operating in Scotland have close links with the gangs who may be responsible for the deaths of 39 migrants.
Over the past five years Vietnamese have consistently appeared as one of the top nationalities of potential victims of trafficking identified by Police Scotland.
Experts say many victims come to the UK with the help of the Snakeheads, notorious people-smugglers with links to ruthless Triad gangsters in China.
A new book written by international crime specialists suggests organised criminal groups operating in Strathclyde – with links to London and Northern Ireland – are involved in human trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation as well as money lending and extortion.
The book – Human Trafficking Finances, Evidence From Three European Countries – talks about a people-smuggling scheme identified by the authorities in Scotland that has links to London.
Jim Laird, an anti-trafficking expert and contributor to the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on the issue, said: “There are clear links between these gangs…the Chinese groups here tend to supply transport and accommodation once they arrive in the UK.”
Former head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency Graeme Pearson said many Vietnamese he dealt with were forced to look after illegal cannabis cultivations.
He said: “They have been brought here as gardeners for cannabis farms.”
DCI Rory Hamilton, from Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit, said: “We will pursue traffickers relentlessly. We will work with our network of contacts in the UK, with international law enforcement and other agencies to rid our country of trafficking .”
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