Kent detectives arrive in China to identify 58 who died in lorry tragedy

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The Independent Online

Detectives from Kent police arrived in Peking yesterday to begin a week-long investigation during which they hope to confirm the identities of the 58 illegal immigrants who suffocated to death in a lorry carrying tomatoes on its way to Dover in June.

Detectives from Kent police arrived in Peking yesterday to begin a week-long investigation during which they hope to confirm the identities of the 58 illegal immigrants who suffocated to death in a lorry carrying tomatoes on its way to Dover in June.

Although Kent police requested permission to visit China over two months ago, logistical and political factors have complicated their investigation and delayed the trip. Now that they have breached the barriers, detectives are confident they can make progress in identifying the dead.

To date, only four corpses have been positively identified, with provisional identifications on 51 others. No names will be revealed until all the victims have been identified. The task of confirming the remainder has fallen to a three-man delegation: Detective Superintendent Dennis McGookin, the head of the identification commission Kent Police established in the wake of the tragedy, Detective Inspector Steve Corbishley, and Sergeant Joe Hon, who will act as translator.

"Our main purpose here is to secure the DNA evidence," Det Supt McGookin said. "The police in China have been working very hard on our behalf and have obtained a lot of forensic samples. We will now co-ordinate their future use, and the evidential trail of the samples, to identify the rest [of the victims] and assist the criminal case."

Det Supt McGookin and his colleagues are expected to travel to the southeastern province of Fujian, the home of the Dover victims, tomorrow though at this stage it is unclear whether local authorities will grant permission for the detectives to meet families of the deceased.

Since the tragedy on 19 June, the investigation has been plagued by the difficulties inherent in any case involving illegal immigrant, compounded by the political sensitivities of refugees fleeing a communist state. In most cases of mass death, police are inundated with information from family members. Relatives of the Dover victims, however, were fearful of repercussions back home, or for relatives already living illegally in the United Kingdom.

The official reason for the visit's delay involves the offer by China's Ministry of Public Security to collect DNA samples from families who suspected their relatives were aboard the lorry. Privately, some political tit-for-tat is also suspected, after the UK refused to grant Chinese police officers access to the two survivors from the Dover tragedy.

News of the eventual arrival in China of British police came as a surprise and relief to relatives of the dead in Fujian. "I welcome them," said Ling Jianbing, who believes his son was one of the victims, "because I want to understand what will happen. We have been waiting for three months now, but we were told nothing by our government, even though I visited county hall this Monday to ask about progress.

"I am happy the police have come at last," Mr Liang said. "All of us relatives are grieving and anxious every day, we think about nothing else, but still after all this time there is no news. We relatives have been waiting for so long for some kind of result."

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