Three people have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and people trafficking after 39 bodies were discovered in a refrigerated lorry trailer in Essex.
A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted Airport on Friday, police said, after a couple were detained in Warrington in Cheshire overnight on Thursday.
The couple, both aged 38, have been named locally as Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, who were reportedly the last known owners of the lorry cab which collected the trailer.
The driver of the truck, 25-year-old Mo Robinson from Portadown in Northern Ireland, was arrested on suspicion of murder on Wednesday and remains in custody.
Pippa Mills, deputy chief constable of Essex Police, said officers had been "working around the clock" on the case.
She added: "A 48 year-old man from Northern Ireland was arrested at Stansted Airport earlier today on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter.
“It follows the arrests of a 38 year-old man and a 38 year-old woman from Warrington during warrants executed in Cheshire overnight. They are currently in custody also on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of manslaughter."
An international investigation is now underway to establish how the 31 men and eight women, all believed to be Chinese nationals, were brought into the UK from the port of Zeebrugge in Belgium early on Wednesday morning.
Post-mortem examinations of 11 of the victims are set to take place on Friday at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, after their bodies were transported from an area at the Port of Tilbury where they were being held.
The Chinese Embassy in London said it had sent a team to Essex, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said police had not yet been able to verify the nationalities of the deceased.
“We hope that the British side can as soon as possible confirm and verify the identities of the victims, ascertain what happened and severely punish criminals involved in the case,” she told a daily news briefing.
The 39 bodies inside the lorry were first discovered by ambulance staff after they were called to an industrial estate in Grays in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Essex Police believes the trailer travelled from Zeebrugge to the port of Purfleet. The lorry cab is thought to have entered the UK at Holyhead in north Wales on a ferry from Dublin.
Irish company Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) confirmed it owned the refrigerated part of the lorry and a spokesman said the company was “shellshocked” and “gutted” by the news.
The firm said the trailer had been leased on October 15 from its rentals yard in Co Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland, at a rate of 275 euro (£237) a week.
It said it provided police with information about the person and company that leased the trailer, as well as offering to make tracking data available.
Three addresses have been searched in Northern Ireland as part of the probe, while warrants were also carried out in Cheshire.
China has called for joint efforts to counter human smuggling, while vigils have been held in London and Belfast to pay tribute to the victims.
Additional reporting by agencies
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in