Vietnamese police have arrested eight people in connection with the discovery of 39 corpses in the back of a lorry in Essex.
The latest arrests take the total number of people detained to 13 and come after Essex Police announced on Friday that all of the victims are believed to be Vietnamese nationals, reports The Independent.
Vietnamese police chief Nguyen Huu Cau of Nghe An province told state media: “Based on what we learn from the suspects, we will actively launch investigations to fight and eradicate these rings which bring people illegally to Britain.”
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UK investigators have arrested two hauliers, a 46-year-old man from Northern Ireland and a couple from Warrington since the dead bodies were found in the refrigerated trailer on an industrial estate in Grays on 23 October.
The 25-year-old driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, was remanded in custody last week at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, the BBC reports. Prosecutors alleged that he was part of a “global ring” of people smugglers.
Robinson, from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, is charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering. He will appear at the Old Bailey on 25 November.
Police have also arrested 22-year-old driver Eamon Harrison, from County Down. The Guardian reports that Harrison is suspected of transporting the lorry to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, before its onward journey to England.
He appeared in Dublin High Court on Friday charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, along with human trafficking and immigration offences, and will face an extradition hearing later this month.
Another man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted Airport last month in connection with the deaths. According to the London Evening Standard, he was held on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people before being released on bail.
The arrested couple from Warrington have been named by Bulgarian TV as Joanna and Thomas Maher, both 38, reports Cheshire Live.
Joanna Maher was described as the owner of the Scania lorry cab at the centre of the investigation, but the couple, who have three children, told reporters that they sold it 13 months ago to a company in County Monaghan.
The Mahers were held on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people, but have been released on bail.
Are police looking for other suspects?
Police are still pursuing two Northern Irish men wanted in relation to the deaths. Brothers Ronan and Christopher Hughes, both from Northern Ireland, are on the run but have made contact with investigators, Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten of Essex Police told a press conference on Friday.
Stoten appealed to the brothers to hand themselves in and “assist this investigation”.
What else do we know?
The victims comprise eight women and 31 men. Although they were initially reported to be Chinese, police last week confirmed that all 39 were from Vietnam.
One of the victims, a 26-year-old woman named Pham Thi Tra My, sent a text to her family on the evening of 22 October that said: “I am dying, I can’t breathe.”
The 13 arrests so far follow an investigation into the route taken by the lorry, which travelled from Monaghan in southern Ireland into Northern Ireland on 15 October and then back south.
From Dublin, the lorry crossed over to Holyhead in north Wales overnight on 16 October, and then to mainland Europe. It subsequently travelled to Dunkirk and Lille in France, and Bruges in Belgium.
Data from the lorry’s tracking device, which has been passed on to Essex Police, also shows that the vehicle made two journeys between the UK and mainland Europe between 17 and 22 October.
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