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Investigation Underway In Britain After 39 Bodies Found In A Container Truck

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

British authorities are trying to identify 39 bodies discovered early this morning. They were found in a refrigerated shipping container at an industrial park east of London. The dead are thought to be migrants smuggled into the country by truck from continental Europe. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Officers have arrested the driver of the tractor-trailer, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, on suspicion of murder. Authorities had struggled to figure out how the truck came to England but now say it arrived from Belgium. After leaving the docks, the driver parked in the town of Grays in the county of Essex. Paramedics called police to the scene, though authorities did not say who first raised the alarm. Pippa Mills is the deputy chief constable of Essex Police.

PIPPA MILLS: At this stage, we have not identified where the victims are from or their identities. And we anticipate this could be a lengthy process.

LANGFITT: Police encourage relatives of the victims who may have been waiting for them here in the U.K. to come forward to help identify the bodies. British officials express shock and sorrow at the loss of life under such horrific circumstances. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, spoke in the House of Commons.

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JEREMY CORBYN: Can we just think for a moment of what it must have been like for those 39 people, obviously in a desperate and dangerous situation, for their lives to end suffocated to death in a container? This is an unbelievable human tragedy that happened in our country at this time.

LANGFITT: The United Kingdom remains an attractive destination for migrants, who are often trafficked by criminal gangs. At least 1,300 people have crossed the English Channel in small boats this year. This case, however, is the worst of its kind in the country in nearly two decades. In the year 2000, 58 Chinese migrants died in a truck at the English port of Dover. The driver closed the only air vent and suffocated them. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.