The head of a U.K. freight trade organization has sounded off on a tragic discovery of 39 bodies found inside a tractor-trailer just east of London Wednesday morning, noting signs point to human trafficking, but the investigation is still active.
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The gruesome discovery was made around 1:20 a.m. local time at an industrial site in Essex, which is just over 30 miles outside London. The truck – hitched to a refrigerated trailer – is believed to have come from Bulgaria. Human trafficking is being eyed as the investigation continues, officials said.
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, which dubs itself the “UK’s only trade organization dedicated to road freight transport,” said the sheer amount of people inside the chilled trailer indicated the people were likely being trafficked.
Burnett also noted the unusual route that the truck took into England.
The vehicle, with Bulgarian license plates, traveled through France, then into southern Ireland and into Dublin before entering the U.K. via the Welsh port of Holyhead.
“The quickest route to get to London is a different way that has the stronger security system,” Burnett told FOX Business. “Heartbeat monitors, [carbon dioxide] monitors, sniffer dogs.”
By taking the longer route, the truck’s driver – or drivers, if they switched out – effectively avoided the risks of the security and those checks, Burnett said, adding that the security throughout the route taken “is quite lax."
The name of the business that owned the truck was not immediately known, Burnett said. A 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland who was driving the truck has been arrested on suspicion of murder. He remains in custody. He has not been charged or identified.
“He’s the driver of the vehicle when the people had been found on it … he may not be the driver that started out with it,” Burnett said. “He may not be the driver that actually brought it from Bulgaria."
Essex Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner said Wednesday investigators are still piecing together what happened.
"This is a tragic incident where a large number of people have lost their lives," Mariner said. "We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process."
Jackie Doyle-Price, a member of the British Parliament, also spoke out about human trafficking in the wake of the horrifying discovery.
"Sickening news of 39 people found dead in a container in Grays. People trafficking is a vile and dangerous business. This is a big investigation for @EssexPoliceUK. Lets hope they bring these murderers to justice," she said in a tweet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.