Essex deaths – Vietnamese ‘lorry victim' text mum saying ‘I can’t breathe’ after family 'paid £30k to smuggle her to UK'

A YOUNG Vietnamese woman is feared to be one of the 39 migrants found dead in the back of a lorry after she sent a haunting final text saying she was "dying".

The distraught family of Pham Thi Tra My, 26, are frantically scrambling for information after paying £30,000 to smuggle her to the UK.

They fear she was one of the 39 migrants were discovered dead in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Essex on Wednesday – the biggest murder probe in the UK since the 7/7 bombings.

She sent the chilling final messages to her family at around 10.30pm – just two hours before the refrigerated lorry arrived at Purfleet in Essex.

Essex Police said yesterday they believed the victims were Chinese nationals – but sources close to the investigation say a number are thought to be Vietnamese, The Telegraph reports.

Tra My had been attempting to get into the UK when she texted her mum on Tuesday as the doomed trailer was on its way to Essex from Zeebrugge in Belgium.

She wrote: "I’m sorry Mum, my path to abroad didn’t succeed.

"Mum, I love you and Dad so much! I’m dying because I can’t breathe.”

Her family haven't heard from her since, with a spokesperson from the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK confirming Essex Police had been in contact.

Hoa Nghiem of Human Rights Space in Hanoi posted a picture of Tra My on Twitter with a plea for information.

She said: "My's family has asked for help. The person told me there were six other people asking for similar assistance to fund out whereabouts of their relatives or family member since they also lost contact since October 23.

"We don't know if that would make six cases as we are verifying names. And we don't know if they are in that Essex truck. We hope they are not.”

Tra My had reportedly gone to China in early October in the hope of travelling to the UK via France for a better life.


Her brother Pham Manh Cuong said she was stopped from going to Britain while in France on October 19, but reportedly made a second attempt.

He told the BBC she was banned from using her phone by "the organisers" but still contacted them at each destination until she fell silent on Tuesday night.

Mimi Vu, a leading expert on trafficking of Vietnamese young people to Europe and the UK, said the texts appeared to be authentic

She explained: "She writes her name and where she is from, which is very important, to tell people where she should be buried. It is important for the body to be returned to the place of birth."

The expert also said sometimes migrants are given fake Chinese passports if they are trafficked through the country, which can lead to confusion.

Vietnamese families of a 26-year-old man and 19-year-old girl have also appealed for information, the BBC reports.

There are fears the ruthless Chinese "Snakehead" gangs could have masterminded the smuggling plot.

But China has so far pinned the blame on Britain – and has made no mention of gangs raking in a fortune to smuggle desperate migrants to Europe.

State-controlled Global Times newspaper said: "This isn't the first time this has happened – a simple question: why do these disasters always happen in the UK and not Europe or America?"

It comes as haulage boss Thomas Maher and wife Joanna, both 38, were arrested in Warrington, Cheshire, today on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and 39 counts of manslaughter.

Police in Essex are continuing to quiz lorry driver Maurice 'Mo'  Robinson, 25, on suspicion of murder after he picked up the trailer from Purfleet.

Robinson, who has been a HGV driver for more than five years,  doesn't own the lorry.

Joanna Maher was named as the owner of the Scania truck, which was registered in the Bulgarian port of Varna in 2018.

But the couple said yesterday they sold the cab a year ago to a company in Ireland after owning it for around 13 months.

Speaking from outside his house in Warrington, Thomas Maher said last night: “It’s absolutely disgusting what has happened.

“We owned the cab and sold it on October 3 last year to a company in Southern Ireland.

“I’ve made contact with the police and made them aware that I was the previous owner.

“Seeing the cab on TV wasn’t nice and obviously we are not a part of that.

“We still have trucks, and immigrants have always been a problem in Dover and Calais.”


The grisly discovery is one of Britain's biggest-ever mass murder probes after the bodies were found on an industrial estate in Grays on Wednesday.

All the 39 victims – including a teenager were said to be from China. Police said eight of the victims were women and the remaining 31 men.

Cops have described one of the women as a "young adult" but no other indication of the age of the victims has been released.

Bodies are now being moved by private ambulance with a police escort from Tilbury Docks to Broomfield Hospital so post-mortem examinations can be carried out.


Robinson is said to have opened the container to get some paperwork and passed out when he discovered the victims dead after they reportedly froze to death.

A pal said: "When he opened the container up and saw all the dead bodies, he was absolutely horrified – as anyone would be – and called the ambulance service who in turn alerted the police.

"I heard the container was refrigerated – the temperature was -25 degrees and the bodies were frozen and had been dead for some time."

The horror has chilling echoes of 2000, when 58 Chinese stowaways died in a lorry travelling by ferry from Belgium to Britain.

In both tragedies, the victims had come from Zeebrugge in to Purfleet port in Essex.

It has been revealed the GPS tracker on the trailer was switched on at 3.06pm on October 15 after travelling from Dublin to Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland.

It then stopped at Warwickshire and Kent before crossing the Channel to Belgium, and making its way on to migrant hotspots Calais and Dunkirk.


From here, it went back to the UK via Belgium and then repeated the journey before the victims made the perilous 173-mile journey in the refrigerated container to Purfleet.

Robinson meanwhile was in the lorry's cab, which travelled from Holyhead on Saturday, and picked up the container at 12.30am.

Both lorry and trailer then left the port at 1.05am. Less than 35 minutes later ambulance and police made the grim discovery of the 39 bodies in the back.

Global Trailer Rentals Ltd (GTR) have confirmed to RTE News they own the container and that they leased it on October 15 from their yard in Co Monaghan for £238.22 a week.


Sources close to Irish police said the lorry’s refrigeration unit – which could have plunged temperatures as low as -25C – was turned on, leaving those inside with "no chance of survival".

Even if the trailer was not chilled the victims may have suffered agonising deaths as oxygen slowly ran out.

The Mayor of Zeebrugge, Dirk De Fauw, insist the migrants were dead before they arrived at Zeebrugge, or they would have been detected by heat cameras.

He added: "If you end up in such a box with 39 people, you're going to die."

Cops are investigating whether they were passed between different gangs at borders in Central Asia and Europe before attempting the Channel crossing.


RUTHLESS Chinese “Snakehead” gangs masterminded the people smuggling plot which sparked the Essex lorry horror, it was believed last night.

Trafficking gangs founded in the eastern province of Fujian make millions ferrying migrant “slaves” and prostitutes from East to West.

Their profits have rocketed in recent years fuelled by the desperation of peasants prepared to risk their lives to flee the poverty of China’s rural hinterlands.

Investigators say Chinese families of migrants dreaming of a new life in the West pay tens of thousands of pounds for their loved ones’ “safe” passage to the UK.

Gangs promise their human cargo will be gifted well paid jobs in Britain as waitresses or office clerks.

But thousands of women who fall into the Snakehead’s clutches end up as prisoners in brothels – or enslaved in nail bars and underground cannabis factories.

And their families back home never learn of their plight, but are held responsible for their travel costs and continue to pay the gangs for years.

Meanwhile, police are also reportedly focusing their investigation on three suspected Irish gang members they believe may have been involved in the smuggling operation which led to the death of the 39 migrants.

Detectives are investigating the men, who are suspected of being part of a South Armagh criminal gang with links to dissident paramilitaries, The Daily Telegraph reports.

One man has links to a Bulgarian company that owned the lorry cab which transported the refrigerated trailer the migrants' bodies were found in from the port of Purfleet, the paper claims.

Detectives from the National Crime Agency are now investigating whether an Irish people smuggling gang with links to Bulgaria was behind the horror.

Anyone concerned about relatives following the incident can call a Casualty Bureau on 0800 056 0944 or 0207 158 0010 if ringing from outside the UK.

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