Essex lorry deaths: People found dead were all Vietnamese

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image captionPham Thi Tra My and Nguyen Dinh Luong's families are concerned they may be among the victims

All 39 people found dead in a refrigerated lorry in Essex were Vietnamese, police have said.

The victims were found in a container on an industrial estate last week and were initially thought to be Chinese.

But Essex Police said it was now in "direct contact with a number of families in Vietnam and the UK" and the Vietnamese government.

A number of Vietnamese families have previously come forward fearing their loved ones are among the dead.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her family a message on the night of 22 October - the day before the 39 people were found dead - saying her "trip to a foreign land has failed".

Post-mortem examinations are being carried out on the 31 men and eight women to establish the cause of death.

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith said: "At this time, we believe the victims are Vietnamese nationals, and we are in contact with the Vietnamese Government."

He said police were not in a position to identify any of the victims.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe bodies were discovered in the lorry trailer in the early hours of 23 October

The Vietnamese Embassy in London said it was "deeply saddened" and sent its "heartfelt condolences" to the families of the victims.

"Specific identities of the victims still need to be identified and confirmed by the relevant authorities of Vietnam and UK," it said.

It said it would "closely co-ordinate with the relevant authorities of Vietnam and UK to support the families of the Vietnamese victims, if any, to bring their loved ones home".

The father of 30-year-old Le Van Ha, who comes from an agricultural part of Vietnam, previously told the BBC he was convinced his son was among the dead.

VietHome, a popular Vietnamese community forum in the UK, said it had passed on the pictures of almost 20 people who have been reported missing to detectives.

Earlier, police in Vietnam's Ha Tinh province said they had charged two unnamed people with "organising or brokering illegal immigration".

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionLe Minh Tuan, pictured here, fears his son Le Van Ha was among the dead in Essex

The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, appeared in court on Monday charged with a string of offences, including 39 counts of manslaughter.

Extradition proceedings have also begun against 22-year-old Eamonn Harrison, who was arrested in Dubin on a European Arrest Warrant.

Police are also seeking two brothers from Northern Ireland, Ronan and Christopher Hughes, who are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and people trafficking.

This article was based on public announcements and appeals made by Essex Police at the relevant time. Christopher Hughes denies any involvement in these offences and Essex Police has since confirmed no further action will be taken against him. Since the publication of this article, his older brother, Ronan Hughes, 41, and Maurice Robinson, 26, both of County Armagh, have pleaded guilty to manslaughter. On 21 December 2020, the Crown Court, sitting at the Old Bailey, found Eamonn Harrison, 24 of Newry, County Down, and Gheorghe Nica, 43 of Basildon, Essex, guilty of manslaughter and Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and Valentin Calota 38, of Birmingham, guilty of conspiring to assist illegal immigration. Alexandru-Ovidiu Hanga, 28, of Tilbury, Essex, and Gazmir Nuzi, 43, of Tottenham, north London, admitted assisting unlawful immigration. All defendants were sentenced in January 2021.

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