British police investigating the deaths of 39 people in a refrigerated truck on Saturday charged a driver arrested at the scene with manslaughter and people trafficking.
Maurice Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland, faces “39 counts of manslaughter, conspiracy to traffic people, conspiracy to assist unlawful immigration and money laundering”, police said.
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Robinson was arrested shortly after the bodies were discovered in the truck at Purfleet on the River Thames estuary, after arriving on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge early on Wednesday.
He will appear in court on Monday, police said.
Three other people have been arrested in the UK in connection with the investigation, on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter. They remain in custody.
They include a 38-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman from Warrington in northwest England, reportedly a couple. She is said to be the legal owner of the truck.
A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland is also being held.
On Saturday, Irish police announced another arrest at Dublin port, of a man in his early 20s from Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Vietnam‘s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said he ordered his country’s authorities to establish whether Vietnamese citizens are among the dead.
Phuc also ordered the police to launch an investigation into alleged human-trafficking activities. British police have said at least some of the victims may have come from the Southeast Asian country.
“Any violations will be strictly dealt with,” Phuc said in a statement posted on the government website. He said he wanted reports on the case from authorities by November 5.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it had instructed its London embassy to assist British police with the identification of victims.
Vietnam families fearful
Several Vietnamese families have said they fear their relatives are among the victims.
“I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breathe,” she said in the message, according to her brother Pham Manh Cuong.
In Vietnam, a number of families told the AFP news agency that their relatives had gone missing on route to the UK.
The families come from remote corners of central Vietnam, a hotspot for people willing to embark on dangerous journeys in the hope of finding better lives abroad.
Many are smuggled illegally through Russia or China, often owing tens of thousands of dollars to their traffickers and carrying falsified documents, and end up working off the books on cannabis farms or in nail salons.
In central Ha Tinh province, the father of 20-year-old Nguyen Dinh Luong said he received a call from a Vietnamese man in the UK this week saying his son had died en route to Britain.
“I fell to the ground when I heard that,” Nguyen Dinh Gia told the AFP. “It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead.”
UK-based community group VietHome said it had received “photos of nearly 20 people reported missing, age 15-45” from Vietnam.
Families of missing Vietnamese migrants on Saturday held a vigil and set up makeshift altars in their homes in central Nghe An province, where many of the suspected victims came from, praying for news from missing relatives.