Appeal to Chinese community over lorry deaths

Detectives hope a Chinese language hotline will bring information on the 58 dead, while a man is arrested in Rotterdam
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Police set up a Chinese-language hotline yesterday as part of an operation to catch the gang behind the deaths of 58 illegal immigrants discovered in a lorry at Dover on Monday.

Police set up a Chinese-language hotline yesterday as part of an operation to catch the gang behind the deaths of 58 illegal immigrants discovered in a lorry at Dover on Monday.

As Dutch police arrested aman in Rotterdam, their British counterparts revealed that the victims were all in their twenties and from the province of Fujian in southern China.

Detective Superintendent Dennis McGookin, who is in charge of the case, appealed to the British Chinese community for help in catching the human traffickers. He said: "These people died a horrific death. Somewhere, probably in China but maybe in this country, are their relatives. We would appeal to anyone who knows the deceased to come forward at once."

The hotline is for Chinese people to call in confidence if they suspect one of their relatives might have been among the dead. Chinese speakers will be available to answer queries.

Det Supt McGookin confirmed what had been suspected from early in the inquiry: that the victims had died from respiratory failure inside the 18-metre Mercedes lorry that carried them from Zeebrugge on Sunday night.

He said a team of 60 detectives and support staff had been drafted on to the case and had been liaising with officers in Peking. DNA samples, photographs and fingerprints will be sent to China if necessary to identify victims.

Det Supt McGookin said Kent police had been given full co-operation by the Chinese authorities. They are as anxious as British police to catch the traffickers, he said.

"To have 60 young people in the back of a truck there would have to have been some organisation to get these people over from China," he said. "In liaising with the Chinese police, hopefully we will know more on this soon."

He said the route the lorry had taken before joining the ferry at Zeebrugge was a key line of inquiry.

The lorry's refrigeration unit was being examined to establish whether it was switched on. Early statements by Customs officers suggested it was off, but Det Supt McGookin said there had been "various theories".

The two men to survive were under police guard at the Kent and Canterbury hospital yesterday, but were expected to be moved shortly.

The driver of the lorry, who has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, was still being questioned yesterday.

In Rotterdam, a man was arrested after police searched three addresses at the request of Kent police."Questions are multifold and answers are limited," said a spokesman for the prosecutors' office. Prosecutors in the Netherlandshave been concentrating on the man behind Van der Spek Transporten, a haulage company set up a week ago in Rotterdam which was responsible for the shipment of the illegal immigrants.

The 24-year-old owner of the company, Arie Van der Spek, was not at the address given as the company's address, which was his family's home.

Dutch police have set up a team of 35 officers at Zwolle and have sent three officers to Britain to aid the investigation. They said Mr Van der Spek had registered the company with a chamber of commerce on Thursday, and some of the details of the registration were false, including the company's telephone number and postal code. Mr Van der Spek lived above a shop in a two-storey apartment building.