Sunday 17 November 2019

Migrant tragedy: Irish couple held on suspicion of manslaughter after 39 container deaths

Inquiries continue into the deaths. Photo: PA
Inquiries continue into the deaths. Photo: PA

Ken Foy, Gabija Gataveckaite and Laura Lynott

An Irish couple have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in connection with the deaths of 39 migrants in a truck container in the UK.

The couple – who are both aged 38 – remained in police custody last night in Cheshire.

Yesterday evening, Essex police announced the arrest of a 48-year-old Northern Irish man at Stansted Airport, London.

He was the fourth person arrested in connection with the investigation and was detained on suspicion of trafficking and suspicion of manslaughter.

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The arrests are in addition to that of 25-year-old Mo Robinson, the truck driver, from Co Armagh, who was still last night in custody.

He was being questioned on suspicion of murder.

"This is an incredibly sensitive and high-profile investigation, and we are working swiftly to gather as full a picture as possible as to how these people lost their lives," said Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

The Irish couple, who are believed to be from the midlands, have a number of children together.

They were arrested at their home in Warrington in England and are understood to have been held on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter.

It’s understood that the woman was reportedly the last registered owner of the truck but that she may have sold it since.

Police carried out searches of the couple's home, near to Liverpool and bought for over €295,000 in March 2017 before carrying out renovations.

Tragic: Police officers in forensic suits at the scene where the lorry containing 39 dead bodies was found. Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images
Tragic: Police officers in forensic suits at the scene where the lorry containing 39 dead bodies was found. Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images

The couple are parents to three teenage children, two boys, 18 and 11, and a girl of 15.

The identity of the couple is not being reported in the Irish Independent for legal reasons.

It's understood the 38-year-old male has lived in England for a number of years and has no criminal convictions in this country.

His family in Ireland declined to comment on his arrest yesterday evening.

Local people were reluctant to speak about the matter but one man from the area said they were a well-known family and he remembered him from before he moved to England.

It is understood that he previously worked as a truck driver.

The 39 bodies were found in a truck container at an industrial estate in Essex having arrived in Britain about an hour-and-a-half earlier after being shipped from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

An international investigation is taking place to establish how the migrants came to be in the back of the truck and who is responsible for trafficking them to the UK.

READ MORE: 'I'm dying because I can't breathe' - 'last moments' of refugee revealed

Held: Police detain a group of men thought to be migrants near Zeebrugge yesterday. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Held: Police detain a group of men thought to be migrants near Zeebrugge yesterday. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Officers from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) are continuing to help English police and the PSNI with their investigation into the tragedy.

It is understood that gardaí have spoken to a number of people linked to transport companies but no arrests have been made in this jurisdiction.

Gardaí are conducting inquiries in relation to the registrations and movements of the refrigerated container and the Irish-owned truck.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills of Essex Police said in a press conference yesterday evening: "This is a fast-moving investigation involving significant resources."

She said: "I can confirm we have officers working around the clock and we have now arrested a fourth person.

"A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted Airport earlier today on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.

"It follows the arrests of a 38-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman from Warrington during warrants executed in Cheshire overnight.

"They are currently in custody also on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.

"A 25-year-old man arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of murder remains in custody."

It's understood that police have been in contact with six Vietnamese families who fear their relatives are among the victims, with some having the smuggling fees repaid.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the sealed refrigerated trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C, or the exact route it travelled.

READ MORE: Role of migrant smugglers must be made obsolete

Irish Independent

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