Essex truck deaths: Belgium blocked probe days before bodies’ discovery

Essex truck deaths: Belgium blocked probe days before bodies’ discovery
The bodies of 38 adults and one teenager were discovered onboard a refrigerated trailer which passed through the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. © Belga

An attempt by Dutch authorities to investigate suspects ahead of the discovery of 39 bodies inside a truck in the UK last autumn was blocked by Belgian officials.

Dutch authorities were tracking two Vietnamese minors who were among the 39 victims of an international human smuggling network found dead inside a UK-bound truck which departed from the port of Zeebrugge.

On 12 October 2019, days before the grisly discovery in Essex on the 23rd, Dutch officials asked to follow up a lead into the two minors after they were driven by taxi to a home in the Brussels municipality of Anderlecht.

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“Dutch authorities asked to carry out certain investigative acts [in Belgium], which a Brussels judge agreed to,” Denis Goeman, a spokesperson for the Brussels’ public prosecutor said, Le Soir reports.

But public prosecutors in Brussels deemed that the information on the suspects was “not precise enough” and paused the probe pending more information from the Netherlands.

“But the information was never provided and, for this reason, the probe was blocked here in Belgium,” Goeman said.

An unidentified source with knowledge of the file told RTL Info that a special procedure needed to be launched to identify the two minors and that an investigation also needed to be opened on the basis of the information provided by the Netherlands.

Prosecutors failed to act on the information given by Dutch officials because they said there was insufficient information to link both the taxi driver and the Anderlecht home to known human trafficking networks.

“The house was not listed as what is known as a ‘safe house’, used [by traffickers] to shelter people in between destinations,” he said. “The investigation was clearly ongoing, but we could not enter into this home without sufficient elements.”

Days later, the 39 bodies were discovered upon arrival in Essex, UK, after the victims, all of them Vietnamese nationals, suffocated to death at some point during the crossing of the Channel.

In late May, Belgian authorities announced they had arrested 13 people linked to the case, primarily those involved in organising the victims’ transportation within Belgium.

In the UK, authorities have arrested and charged the driver of the truck, a 25-year-old Irish national who has plead guilty to manslaughter after his arrest last November.

A 40-year-old man suspected of spearheading the human trafficking network was also arrested in Ireland in April and is being charged with 39 counts of manslaughter as well as immigration offences.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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