British police said they had arrested two more people over the deaths of 39 people found in a truck, believed to be Chinese nationals, on suspicion of human trafficking and manslaughter.
A man and a woman, both aged 38, were arrested in Warrington, northern England, Essex police said.
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Belgian investigators are close to identifying the driver who delivered the refrigerated trailer – in which 39 people were found dead – to the port of Zeebrugge on Tuesday.
Authorities there believe the refrigerated unit in which the Chinese migrants were found dead was selected because it could escape heat detection.
Officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau are continuing to assist British police and the PSNI with their investigation into the tragedy.
It is understood gardaí have spoken to a number of people linked to transport companies but no arrests have been made in this jurisdiction. It’s understood that British detectives are homing in on a criminal gang here with links to dissident paramilitaries.
The men are suspected of involvement in orchestrating the smuggling operation.
Police in the UK are working to identify the victims.
According to sources within the Belgian police, the licence plate of the truck that left the trailer has been recorded on CCTV and detectives are now searching for more information on the vehicle. The port is under heavy surveillance.
“To get to the spot where the trailer was parked he had to pass dozens of cameras,” the source said. “When you enter the port you have to identify yourself or show a waybill.”
The bodies of the eight women and 31 men were yesterday being transferred to a mortuary as police began the “lengthy and complex” process of identifying them.
UK police have been granted a further 24 hours to question the driver of the cab, named locally as 25-year-old Mo Robinson from Portadown in Co Armagh.
It is believed that Mr Robinson, who was only in control of the container for around 35 minutes, may have found his gruesome cargo and called the ambulance services himself.
One of the key areas for the investigation is to establish whether the lorry driver is an innocent party.
The home of the lorry driver arrested was searched by the PSNI on Wednesday night.
Two other properties in Co Armagh were also searched including the home of Mr Robinson’s parents in Laurelvale and another in the Armagh city area.
- Read more: David Wood: ‘Fight to stop the tragedy of people smuggling must get more priority’
- Read more: How €20,000 can buy illegal passage from China into Europe
UK police are getting help from Chinese embassy officials in London to identify the tragic victims and also receiving assistance from police in Belgium, where the truck’s container apparently was put on a ferry at the port of Zeebrugge and sent to England.
A book of condolences has been opened at the town office in Grays, the site of the industrial park where the truck containing the bodies was found early on Wednesday.
Haulage company GTR, which is based in Dublin, confirmed that it owns the refrigerated trailer in which 39 people were found dead, but the trailer had been leased out.
GTR said it will make the data from its tracking system available to investigating police. The company’s directors said they are “shellshocked” at the news and “gutted” that one of their trailers had been used in such a way.
Speaking to RTÉ, a company spokesperson said the trailer was leased on October 15 from Global Trailer Rentals’ yard in Monaghan at a rate of €275 per week until it is returned.
Belgian authorities say they have yet to make headway in finding out how the container ended up in their port of Zeebrugge before it was found in England with all stowaways dead.
“We don’t know how much time it stayed in Belgian territory,” said prosecution spokesman Eric Van Duyse.
“We don’t know if it stopped or not. We don’t know if the people got into the container or not.”
Zeebrugge mayor Dirk de Fauw said that not all containers are checked and that samples are “taken at random”.
Every day 4,000 containers pass through the port of Zeebrugge, they all get a visual check and some of them pass through a heat scanner, but not all.
“Refrigerated trailers are difficult to check because of the layer of insulation,” say sources within Zeebrugge port.
“You cannot use heat scanners, sniffer dogs or carbon monoxide testers to detect the presence of humans.
“They are also sealed, so port personnel cannot simply open them to do a check.”
Sources within the port say there are strong suspicions that smugglers have found a way to open the containers without breaking the seal.
Refrigerated containers are considered coffin-like structures. “It’s impossible to open them from the inside. If you’re not found in time, you’ll suffocate or freeze to death,” the source added.
The Irish Independent can disclose new details about the movements of the truck. It left Dublin Port on the ferry for Holyhead in Wales at 8.55pm on Sunday with a refrigerated unit attached to it.
What happened after it arrived in Wales is not known but gardaí say the dead migrants were not in the refrigerated unit when it left Dublin Port. Hours earlier on Sunday at 5.45am the truck had arrived in Dublin Port from Holyhead with a rigid trailer attached to it.
Gardaí believe that the truck was then driven to Northern Ireland where its trailer was unloaded.
The truck was then driven back to Dublin Port with the refrigerated unit attached to it.
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