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39 Bodies Found In Trucking Container In UK


British police have launched a murder investigation after the bodies of 39 people were found in a trucking container in an industrial park east of London. Officers have arrested the driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, on suspicion of murder. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talked about the incident in Parliament today.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, the whole House will be shocked by the appalling news that 39 bodies have been discovered in a lorry container in Essex. This is an unimaginable tragedy and truly heartbreaking. I know that the thoughts and prayers of all members are with those who lost their lives and their loved ones. I'm receiving regular updates. And the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened...

KING: For more on this developing story, we have NPR's Frank Langfitt from London. Hi, Frank.


KING: So what more do we know about the people who died?

LANGFITT: Well, Noel, the bodies were discovered overnight in Grays. It's a town along the River Thames. Police are working to identify the victims, who they say are all adults except for one teenager. Now, they think the truck originated in Bulgaria and entered the United Kingdom on Saturday in the Welsh town of Holyhead. It's a major port on the Irish Sea across from Dublin.

They're trying to identify the victims. But this may be very difficult because they may not have been carrying papers, of course, because this is clearly a people-smuggling operation.

KING: How big a problem is this, smuggling people, the situation where you have people being smuggled from Europe into the United Kingdom?

LANGFITT: Well, you know, the United Kingdom is still a very attractive place for migrants. It wasn't that long ago - just a few days ago - that the U.K. border police picked up a group of 13 men, women and children trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat. And I've talked to a lot of truck drivers and trucking companies that operate between the port of Calais in France and Dover here in the United Kingdom.

And it's common for migrants to jump on top of the trucks, cut them open with knives and stow away. And it's - as I guess we've reported before, lots of truckers are very anxious about parking overnight anywhere near the opening, the port of Calais, because they deal with this all the time. But what we seem to be - and the police aren't saying this yet. But what we seem to be seeing here is, essentially, industrial-scale people smuggling.

KING: Thirty-nine people is - that is a tragic loss of life. When was the last time the U.K. saw something of this magnitude?

LANGFITT: Well, this is the thing, Noel. There was this terrible case. And I remember it at the time when it happened. It was back in 2000. And it was at Dover. And authorities found 58 Chinese migrants dead in the back of a truck. This was a terrible and very, very similar case.

What had happened is these migrants had started off in Beijing. They had made their way into Europe. And then in this truck across the English Channel, they'd paid Chinese Snakeheads - those are the criminal gangs in China that arrange this - more than $20,000 each to get into the United Kingdom. And in the end, the driver of the truck was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

KING: Really tragic story. NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thank you so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF CERULEAN SKIES' "THEY DO EXIST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.