Britain’s National Crime Agency warned the government in April 2016 that human trafficking networks may be targeting less busy eastern and southern ports. One of the ports in question was Purfleet, on the River Thames, through which the ill-fated trailer with 39 suspected migrants came into the UK.
Back in 2016, the NCA (equivalent to the FBI in the UK) said: “We’ve seen on the east coast evidence from Tilbury and Purfleet, up as far as Hull and Immingham. And on the south coast from Newhaven to Portsmouth.”
The NCA suggested that the quieter ports came into the spotlight after security measures in northern France led gangs to switch from smuggling immigrants across the English Channel to transporting them from Belgium and Holland.
According to the agency, migrants would pay from 130 euros ($145) for a single attempt to cross into the UK to more than 8,000 euros ($9,000) for a “guaranteed” journey in “high-quality concealment”.
In this year’s report, the NCA mentioned the Belgian port of Zeebrugge among people-smuggling hot-spots, along with Calais and the Eurotunnel.
Purfleet made headlines on Wednesday again after 39 dead bodies were found in the back of a lorry at the nearby industrial estate. It is believed that the rear part of the vehicle had travelled from Zeebrugge on Saturday, 19 October, while the tractor unit originated in Northern Ireland.
The Scania lorry was registered in Bulgaria in 2017 and hasn’t re-entered the country since, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has confirmed.
The people in the container are understood to have either suffocated or died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said the bodies were inside what appeared to be a refrigerated container, where temperatures could be as low as -25C.
The vehicle and its driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, have been arrested as part of a murder probe.
Nine people were found alive in a separate truck on a UK highway and were being checked on the same day.