Police officers are operating to determine 39 individuals discovered dead in the back of a lorry in Essex as component of a wide-ranging murder investigation into the UK’s worst such tragedy in nearly 20 years.

The probable function of cross-border organised crime groups was a essential priority for Essex police, who had been alerted to the bodies of 38 adults and one particular teenager in the lorry at an industrial park in Grays by the ambulance service at 1.40am on Wednesday morning.

In a discovery that prompted expressions of horror and demands for justice from politicians and witnesses, officers discovered the victims in the refrigerated unit and straight away launched a murder investigation. The lorry was later driven away previous a cordon of officers who bowed their heads and removed their hats.

The 25-year-old driver, identified by police and neighborhood sources as Mo Robinson, from Portadown in County Armagh, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

A parallel investigation has also begun to examine no matter whether organised crime networks – broadly believed to be behind the current surge in individuals-smuggling operations in search of to bring migrants to the UK – had played a function.

It was unclear final evening no matter whether Robinson had been conscious of any plans to bring individuals to the UK. Initially police mentioned the lorry had originated in Bulgaria. But amid a swirl of data they later mentioned the trailer – the rear section of the car containing the bodies – travelled from Zeebrugge into Purfleet, Essex, and docked in the Thurrock region shortly immediately after 12.30am.

The lorry’s 25-year-old driver, Mo Robinson

The lorry’s 25-year-old driver, Mo Robinson, has been arrested on suspicion of murder. Photograph: Facebook

The tractor unit – the cab section at the front in which the driver sits – travelled separately from Northern Ireland. Robinson is believed to have picked up the trailer just minutes prior to the ambulance service was alerted.

On a day of quick-moving developments:

  • The Bulgarian ministry of foreign affairs mentioned the Scania lorry was registered in Varna, a city on the country’s east coast, below the name of a enterprise owned by an Irish citizen.

  • The ministry added that police mentioned it was “highly unlikely” the victims had been Bulgarians.

  • Officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) had been brought in to investigate the probable function of gangs.

  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland mentioned it was supporting the Essex police investigation, whilst the Irish police, Garda Síochána, mentioned they would offer each help probable.

  • In an unrelated incident, nine undocumented migrants had been discovered alive in a lorry on the M20 in Kent and had been becoming dealt with by immigration authorities.

Forensic police dressed in white coveralls had been observed going in and out of the car all through the day, exactly where it remained behind a cordon till shortly prior to 5pm, when it was escorted by a quantity of police cars to nearby Tilbury Docks.

Tributes to the unidentified victims had been led by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who mentioned he was “appalled by this tragic incident”, which is the worst of its type in the UK considering that the bodies of 58 Chinese individuals had been discovered in a container at Dover, Kent, in 2000.

Ch Supt Andrew Mariner of Essex police mentioned: “This is a tragic incident exactly where a significant quantity of individuals have lost their lives. Our inquiries are ongoing to establish what has occurred.

“We are in the method of identifying the victims, having said that I anticipate that this could be a lengthy method.”

Richard Burnett, the chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, mentioned: “The National Crime Agency have been warning that traffickers are receiving much more sophisticated and ruthless all the time. We’ve had traffickers climb on top rated of trucks and unbolt the complete door to let individuals in and then reattach it and it appears like the seal on the door hasn’t been tampered with.”

Essex murder investigation: MPs react to 39 dead – video

Even though the numberplate of the Scania lorry was covered, its windscreen carried a sticker reading: “Ireland, the ultimate dream,” whilst a quantity of dream-catcher pendants appeared to be hanging from the rearview mirror. The sticker matched one particular on an identical cab pictured on Robinson’s Facebook web page.

A member of employees at Hydraquip, one particular of the organizations with premises behind the police cordon at Waterglade industrial park, mentioned colleagues had not noticed the lorry at all prior to going residence at 5pm on Tuesday, about nine hours prior to the emergency solutions had been referred to as to the scene.

It would have been noticed, mentioned the man, who preferred not to give his name. “It’s not uncommon for automobiles to park there, but it surely is for lorries. They’ve got indicators that say no lorries can be parked there at all. It would have got a ticket.”

The East of England ambulance service refused to be drawn on the situations by which it was created conscious of the incident, saying only that it was referred to as in the early hours of Wednesday and sent 5 ambulances, hazardous region response teams and a automobile from Essex and Herts air ambulance.

Automobiles from the British Red Cross attended the scene at the request of Thurrock council. The charity mentioned its employees and volunteers had been offering emotional assistance to members of the emergency solutions and other people dealing with the tragedy.

The residence secretary, Priti Patel, mentioned Dwelling Workplace immigration officials had been operating closely with the police to establish what occurred, whilst the NCA, which has a remit to investigate organised immigration crime as nicely as human trafficking, mentioned it was hunting into no matter whether organised crime groups may possibly have played a function in the tragedy.

The NCA mentioned: “We are conscious of this tragic incident which is now the topic of a murder investigation becoming led by Essex police and we have deployed NCA officers to help.

“We are operating with partners which includes Essex police and immigration enforcement to offer specialist assistance to urgently determine and take action against any organised crime groups who may possibly have played a function in causing these deaths.”

The lorry is driven away from the scene

The lorry is driven away from the scene. Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Patel appeared prior to the residence affairs choose committee on Wednesday afternoon and signalled that she was prepared to look at tougher sentences for human traffickers and individuals smugglers.

The independent MP John Woodcock asked if Patel would commit to reviewing sentencing suggestions for human trafficking.

She replied: “What we have observed generally via the actions of these traffickers is the worst of humanity and it is proper that we use our law enforcement and all elements of the law via current legislation to make confident that justice is served and that the perpetrators are prosecuted.

“He’s raised the point about sentencing and of course we have frameworks proper now for the sentencing suggestions. It is one thing that I’m really delighted to talk about with the Ministry of Justice to see what much more we can do.”

The prime minister tweeted: “I am getting common updates and the Dwelling Workplace will operate closely with Essex police as we establish precisely what has occurred.”

More reporting: Lisa O’Carroll, Rory Carroll and Nazia Parveen