26 arrests made in connection with Essex lorry deaths

Police announced the arrests after a series of simultaneous early morning raids in Belgium and France on Tuesday as part of two investigations. The bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in a refrigerated trailer attached to a lorry in an industrial park in Grays, Essex, in the early hours of October 23, shortly after the lorry arrived on a ferry from Zeebrugge, in Belgium, in the early hours of October 23 a year ago. A United Kingdom report found the migrants all died from asphyxia and hypothermia in the lorry found in the county of Essex.

Police said migrants died from a combination of a lack of oxygen and overheating in an enclosed space. The victims came from impoverished villages in Vietnam and are believed to have paid smugglers to take them on the risky journey to better lives overseas. Thirteen of the arrests took place in the Brussels area of Belgium, and the other 13 in the French capital Paris.

Many of them had been hiding in Belgium before taking the truck to the UK. The 39 Vietnamese nationals were found in a container which was parked at the Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays on October 23 past year. The driver, Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon, Northern Ireland has admitted 39 counts of manslaughter on or before October 24 a year ago.

In a statement, Eurojust said the suspects are allegedly part of an organised crime group that smuggles refugees from Asia, particularly from Vietnam. Europol set up an operational task force in order to ease the transfer of information between the law enforcement agencies investigating the Essex lorry deaths, this group aided with the latest arrests made on the continent. Five of them have been charged with migrant smuggling with aggravating circumstances, belonging to a criminal organisation and forgery.

If proven guilty, the arrested persons can be sentenced to 15 years in prison and a fine of EUR1,000-150,000 (£1,100-165,0000) each, according to the Belgian authorities.