U.K. police have charged a truck driver on Oct. 26 with 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people in connection with 39 deaths in the back of the truck he was driving in southeastern England.
Police say Maurice Robinson, 25, of Craigavon, Northern Ireland is due to appear at Chelmsford Magistrates Court on Monday. He was the first of those arrested to be charged in what is seen as one of the U.K.s biggest cases of people smuggling.
Five people are being questioned by police, including the truck driver and three people who were arrested Friday on suspicion on manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people. Irish police said another man was arrested Saturday in connection with the case.
British police said Saturday they have removed all the bodies from the truck and are awaiting autopsies. Identifying the victims is expected to be difficult and officials said very few documents were found with the bodies. Smugglers normally take the passports of their passengers to obscure their identities, stripping them of their names and giving them new documents when they arrive at their destinations.
Police initially believed the victims were Chinese but later acknowledged that the details were still evolving. The Vietnamese government also announced its own investigation into the deaths and set up a hotline for families.
That comes after attention shifted to Vietnam Friday, when the family of a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman released text messages suggesting she had suffocated in the truck. Relatives of Pham Tra My told the BBC they had been unable to contact the 26-year-old since receiving a text Tuesday night saying she was suffocating.
“Im so sorry mom and dad. … My journey abroad doesnt succeed,” she wrote. “Mom, I love you and dad very much. Im dying because I cant breathe. … Mom, Im so sorry.”
In the village of Yen Thanh in north-central Vietnam, the mother and a sister of Bui Thi Nhung mourned Saturday as they set up an altar for the 19-year-old woman. A family friend in the U.K. told them their relative had died in the tragedy.
Nhung paid an agent thousands of dollars in hopes of finding work at a nail parlor in Britain.
“Many families in Yen Thanh got rich from money sent back by their children working abroad,” said Le Dình Tuan, a neighbor who had gone to her house to check on her mother.
The father of 20-year-old Nguyen Dình Luong fears his son is among the dead. He told The Associated Press he hadnt been able to reach his son since last week, when the young man told his father he planned to join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.
“He often called home, but I havent been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,” Nguyen Dình Gia said. “I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as its safe. He shouldnt be worried about money, Ill take care of it.”
His older brother, Pham Dình Hai, said Luong had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder. The family said they shared the information with local authorities.