A truck driver has been arrested after 39 people died in his lorry’s refrigerated compartment.
The alleged human trafficker is a Northern Irishman who calls the vehicle he drives ‘The Polar Express’.
Mo Robinson, 25, is at the center of one of Britain’s biggest ever murder investigations after an ambulance crew discovered the bodies in his trailer after he pulled up near the Dartford Crossing in Essex last night.
Robinson, who is from a small village near Portadown, Northern Ireland, regularly posts about the Bulgarian-registered Scania truck on his Instagram and Facebook pages, referring to it as ‘the Scandinavian Express’ and ‘the Polar Express’.
Social media posts suggest Robinson makes frequent trips to Denmark and Sweden, which would require driving through Britain.
Police found the dead bodies in Essex industrial estate. The lorry appears to have a refrigeration unit between the cab and the container leading haulage experts to suggest those inside may have frozen to death.
Photos show the inside of the refrigerated trailer where 39 people were found dead in the early hours of this morning
Police in forensics suits were seen worked on the cab end of the lorry, which is Bulgarian registered. It is not known where those found inside got in.
The deaths will lead to renewed calls for added checks on vehicles entering Britain through so-called ‘soft spot’ ports, with Border Force resources currently focused on Dover.
The fact that the lorry arrived at Holyhead on Saturday suggests those who died may have been in the back of the vehicle for at least four days.
A member of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said the lorry could have got a ferry from France to Ireland, then driven through Ireland before boarding another boat to Britain.
Seamus Leheny said: ‘If the lorry came from Bulgaria, getting into Britain via Holyhead is an unorthodox route.
‘People have been saying that security and checks have been increased at places like Dover and Calais, so it might be seen as an easier way to get in by going from Cherbourg or Roscoff, over to Rosslare, then up the road to Dublin. It’s a long way around and it’ll add an extra day to the journey.’
A source told the Irish Daily Mirror they believed the container first arrived in Belfast, before it was taken down to Dublin and then on the ferry to Holyhead.
The lorry’s trailer is understood to be refrigerated, meaning temperatures inside could have been as low as -25C.
Describing the conditions inside, Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said, if the refrigerated was switched on, conditions inside would have been ‘absolutely horrendous’ and would kill anyone inside ‘pretty quickly’.
Mr Burnett added: ‘It’s going to be dark. If the fridge is running it’s going to be incredibly cold.
‘The only place to go to the toilet is on board the back of the trailer. You can imagine if they’ve been in there for days then there will be faeces, there will be urine.’
It is known the lorry has a Bulgarian registration and entered the UK in Holyhead on Saturday.
Hauliers have suggested that, if the lorry had traveled from Bulgaria, it may have gone on a ferry from France to Ireland before coming to the UK. However, it is unclear where the lorry originated.
The truck is a Scania with the words ‘Ireland’ and ‘The Ultimate Dream’ on the windscreen.
Haulage experts have said it is unlikely that the lorry was checked if it went from France to Ireland.
Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett said the lorry could have travelled on a ferry from Cherbourg, France, to Rosslare, Ireland, before driving to Dublin and taking another ferry to Holyhead, North Wales and then reaching Essex by road.
He said: ‘It’s highly unlikely that if this vehicle has come from Europe that it’s been physically checked.’
Border guards in Calais and Dover C02 probes to see if anyone is breathing inside lorries. They also have heartbeat detectors.
Mr Burnett added: ‘Because of the migrant issue at Dover and Calais, you’ve got far more checks that are taking place there. You’ve got heartbeat monitors, you’ve got dogs, you’ve got CO2. Those checks are done as you drive through.
‘Cherbourg, because it’s a low volume port, you probably won’t have the same security measures that they have in Coquelles, Calais, for the high number of vehicles that are stepping through there and that’s been one of the main migrant routes historically.
‘If this is somebody trying to smuggle a significant number of people through then maybe Cherbourg has been picked because it’s a little easier to get through.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is ‘appalled’ by the tragedy and that his thoughts are with those who lost their lives and their loved ones.
He tweeted: ‘I’m appalled by this tragic incident in Essex. I am receiving regular updates and the Home Office will work closely with Essex Police as we establish exactly what has happened. My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives & their loved ones.’
During Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price said: ‘To put 39 people into a locked metal container shows a contempt for human life that is evil. The best thing we can do in memory of those victims is to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.’
Responding, Boris Johnson said: ‘It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those emergency services, as the right gentleman opposite (Jeremy Corbyn) said, as they were asked to open that container and to expose the appalling crime that had taken place.
‘I must say I do share her strong desire now for the perpetrators of that crime, and indeed all those who engage in similar activity – because we know that this trade is going on – all such traders in human beings should be hunted down and brought to justice.’
Irish premier Leo Varadkar said any necessary investigations would be undertaken if it was established the lorry had passed through Ireland.
‘The information that we have so far this morning is very sketchy but there are some reports that the truck may have passed through Ireland at some point,’ he told the Dail parliament in Dublin.
It is the biggest disaster of its kind since 2000, when 58 Chinese stowaways died on a ferry from Belgium to Britain.
Today’s tragedy has claimed more victims than the Manchester Arena bombing, in which 22 were killed.
In 2015, 71 migrants, including eight women and four children, were found dead in the back of a Slovakian meat lorry which was abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway.
The industrial estate where the lorry was found today is next to the Dartford Crossing and is used as a stopping point for lorries travelling south to the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, although the planned route of the lorry involved is unknown.
The police have cordoned off the lorry while forensics experts gather evidence from the lorry. Large screens have been put up around the lorry while the murder investigation takes place.
The migrant route to the UK through Ireland.
Authorities were warned last year that people smugglers saw the Irish border as a weak point in the UK border and were taking migrants to Ireland before transporting them to Britain.
Traffickers see the Irish border as a weak point to get people in Britain, it emerged last year.
An Iranian man told the BBC how he was flown to Dublin, where there are deemed to be fewer and less rigorous checks, on a false passport, before being transported on to London.
An investigation found that, after getting to Ireland, migrants were being taken to Belfast and onto.