Family of woman feared dead in Essex lorry tragedy tell of their devastation

26 October 2019, 08:09 | Updated: 26 October 2019, 11:17

39 dead: investigators at the scene where the bodies were found
39 dead: investigators at the scene where the bodies were found. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The devastated parents of a woman feared to have died in the Essex lorry container tragedy have told of their devastation at receiving harrowing texts from her in her final moments.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent messages to her family telling that she was 'dying because she couldn't breathe,’ her family claimed.

She sent texts that read: “I’m sorry Dad and Mom. The way I went overseas was not successful. Mom, I love Dad and you so much. I'm dying because I can't breathe.”

Her parents, Nguyen Thi Phong and Pham Van Thin, fear she is among the dead. It has not yet been formally confirmed that she was among the 39 people found dead in the lorry at at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays on Wednesday.

Her father Pham told CNN: “"I've lost both my loved one and my money,"

He said he was still overcome with grief, saying it was "very painful" to receive the text from his daughter.

"The smugglers said that this was a ... safe route, that people would go by airplane, car ... if I had known she would go by this route, I would not have let her go."

Her mother Nguyen Thi Phong said she hoped the authorities would now help bring their daughter’s body home.

Around 20 photos of suspected victims have been handed to police, a charity said today.

Families who fear their loved ones may have been among the 39 who died in the container have given pictures of them to charity Viethome who passed them on to police.

Those reported missing are between the ages of 15-45.

The 39 bodies were found inside a refrigerated lorry container at Waterglade Industrial Park in Grays.

Tra My is believed to be among the victims
Tra My is believed to be among the victims. Picture: Twitter
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills gives an update on the lorry deaths yesterday
Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills gives an update on the lorry deaths yesterday. Picture: PA

Detectives are continuing to question four people.

A 48-year-old man from Northern Ireland was detained at Stansted Airport on Friday on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and manslaughter, Essex Police said.

Officers had earlier arrested a couple, named locally as haulage boss Thomas Maher and his wife Joanna, both 38, of Warrington, on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter and people trafficking.

It followed the arrest of the driver of the Scania truck on suspicion of murder on Wednesday, who remains in custody.

On Thursday, detectives were granted more time to question Mo Robinson, 25, from Northern Ireland, after the bodies of eight women and 31 men were found in the refrigerated trailer in an industrial park in Grays in the early hours of Wednesday.

Essex Police initially believed all of the dead were Chinese nationals, but the force said at a press conference "this is now a developing picture" amid reports several may be Vietnamese.

Deputy Chief Constable Pippa Mills said she would give no more details about the nationalities of the victims until formal identification had taken place.

The BBC said it has been in contact with six Vietnamese families who fear their relatives are among the dead, with some having the smuggling fees repaid.

Tra My’s family said they had paid £30,000 for her to be smuggled into Britain, which has now been repaid.

If the fridge on the hermetically sealed trailer was not running there would be no air coming in, suffocating people inside, according to Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association.

It is not yet known when the victims entered the trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25C if the fridge is activated, or the exact route it travelled.

Belgian officials said the trailer arrived at Zeebrugge at 2.49pm on Tuesday and left the port the same day en route to Purfleet.

The trailer arrived at Purfleet at around 12.30am on Wednesday, and was picked up by the cab, known as the tractor, which arrived from Northern Ireland via Holyhead in North Wales on Sunday.

The lorry left the port at Purfleet shortly after 1.05am before police were called to the Waterglade Industrial Park on Eastern Avenue in Grays at 1.40am.

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.

The Vietnamese embassy in London has said some families have contacted them asking about relatives but it is yet to receive any information from police.

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