Police make people trafficking arrests over 39 U.K. truck deaths

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By Patrick Smith  with NBC News World News
Image: Police officers in a forsensic suits at the scene of a lorry found t
Police officers in a forsensic suits at the scene of a lorry found to be containing 39 dead bodies at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays, Essex, on Oct. 23, 2019.   -   Copyright  Ben Stansall

LONDON — Police have arrested a man and a woman on suspicion of people trafficking as part of the investigation into how the bodies of 39 came to be found in a truck container in southeast England on Wednesday.

The man and woman, both 38 and from Warrington in Cheshire, northwest England, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on 39 counts of manslaughter, Essex police said in a statement Friday.

British police typically do not name suspects until or unless they are charged and police urged the media and the public not to speculate over their identities.

A 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland was arrested on Wednesday and remains in police custody.

The trailer had arrived at the docks in Essex, southern England, having traveled from Zeebrugge in Belgium, and the bodies were found in the town of Grays east of London just more than an hour later at 1:40 a.m. on Wednesday, officials said.

On Thursday authorities began the slow process of determining the cause of the deaths and identifying the bodies. At least 11 were taken to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford and the local coroner began postmortem examinations on Friday. Police warned that this process could be "lengthy."

"This is all being done in close liaison with HM Coroner and we continue to work to ensure that the dignity of victims and respect for their loved ones are at the forefront of our investigation," the police statement said.

On Thursday, police identified the dead as Chinese nationals, and the story has gained huge coverage in China.

"We read with heavy heart the reports about the death of 39 people in Essex, England," China's Embassy in London said in a statement to NBC News.