The 39 people found dead in the back in the back of a truck in England last month are believed to be Vietnamese nationals, Essex Police said in a statement Friday.
“At this time, we believe the victims are Vietnamese nationals, and we are in contact with the Vietnamese Government,” Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith said in the statement.
He added that police were in “direct contact with a number of families in Vietnam and the UK, and we believe we have identified families for some of the victims whose journey ended in tragedy on our shores.”
The development comes a week after 39 people were found dead in the back of a refrigerated lorry in a UK industrial park in Grays, Essex, 20 miles east of London.
Essex Police initially believed that the people found dead were Chinese nationals “based on the documentation found on them,” a press officer told CNN.
Smith said that “confirmatory evidence” needed to present cases to the coroner’s office “has not yet been obtained” and is being gathered across several jurisdictions worldwide.
“As a result, we cannot at this time announce the identity of any of the victims,” he said.
The Vietnamese Embassy in London said it was “deeply saddened” at the police’s initial findings and that it sends its “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims, according to Britain’s PA news agency.
The embassy added that it will “closely co-ordinate with the relevant authorities of Vietnam and [the] UK to support the families of the Vietnamese victims, if any, to bring their loved ones home,” PA said.
Vietnamese police arrest two suspects
The deputy director of the Nge An district police department said police suspect the arrested pair may also have been involved in previous missing persons cases.
Meanwhile, UK police investigating the deaths appealed to two brothers to hand themselves in. Detectives made a “direct appeal” to Ronan and Christopher Hughes to come forward and “assist” the investigation during a press conference in Belfast on Friday.
“Although we have already spoken to Ronan Hughes recently by telephone, we need to have a conversation with him and his brother in person,” Detective Chief Inspector of Essex Police, Daniel Stoten said.
“Talking to Ronan and Christopher is crucial to our investigation, and the sooner we can make this happen, the sooner we can progress and continue with our investigation,” he added.
Stoten said that the brothers “are known to have links in Northern Ireland and Ireland, as well as the shipping industries.”
“It is essential that we follow all lines of inquiry and bring those responsible for these tragic events to justice,” he said, while urging anyone with knowledge of the pair to get in touch with police.
Also on Friday, a 23-year-old man, Eamon Harrison, appeared in the High Court in Dublin on a European arrest warrant. Essex police said they had started extradition proceedings to bring Harrison to the UK from Ireland so he can face charges of manslaughter, as well as human trafficking and immigration offenses.
Maurice “Mo” Robinson, a 25-year-old truck driver, appeared in court earlier this week, charged with 39 counts of manslaughter. Robinson, of Craigavon in Northern Ireland, was arrested shortly after the bodies were found in the back of a truck he was driving on October 23.
Appearing by video link, he was remanded in custody by magistrates in Chelmsford, Essex and will next appear at the Old Bailey in London on November 25.
Journalist Peter Taggart contributed reporting.