Police are investigating whether the deaths of 39 people found in a lorry in Essex were part of a “wider conspiracy” to traffic people, following reports the victims had set out from Vietnam in a larger group.
British detectives met with the Vietnamese ambassador to the UK on Saturday, amid claims most of the men and women found in a refrigerated trailer in Grays this week were from one rural community in the southeast Asian country.
The victims are believed to have been part of a group of 100 migrants who set out to reach the UK for “a new life”, according to Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam, minister of a Catholic church in Vietnam’s rural Nghe An province.
He described their suspected deaths as “a catastrophe for our community”.
Police had initially believed all 31 men and eight women found in the trailer were Chinese, but on Friday night they said the nationality of those killed was “now a developing picture”.
Father Nam, a priest in the remote town of Yen Thanh, 180 miles south of Hanoi, said he was in contact with family members of several suspected victims.
He told Reuters news agency: “According to a few sources that have told me, in this case, there were many people, more than 100 were on their way to a new life, but 39 died. A few families confirmed the deaths of their relatives who are the victims of this tragic journey.”
The priest said his town was “covered in sorrow”. He added: “I’m still collecting contact details for all the victim’s families, and will hold a ceremony to pray for them tonight.”
Victims’ relatives reportedly believe the container in which their bodies were found as part of a convoy of three lorries being brought to the UK. According to Sky News, two of the trucks are thought to have earlier completed their trips but the third was delayed at an unknown location.
In a press conference on Saturday, detective chief inspector Martin Pasmore refused to comment whether the lorry had formed part of a convoy but said investigating officers remained “open-minded”.
He added: “There are lines of inquiry that are set on course to establish whether or not there are wider conspiracies involved in this … but I can say no more than that.”