Vietnamese death truck victim paid for 'business class' trip to UK

‘She thought it was a VIP ticket’: Vietnamese ‘death truck victim’ was hoodwinked into paying £30,000 for ‘business class’ trip to Britain in hope of helping her debt-ridden family

  • Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her mother harrowing messages saying she was ‘dying’
  • Her family claim she paid people smugglers £30,000 to travel to UK via China 
  • Human rights worker who spoke with family says they were struggling with debt
  • Added that 26-year-old had paid three times the price for ‘business class ticket’   

A Vietnamese woman thought to be among 39 migrants found dead in a lorry had been dealing with debt created by a family member when she paid three times the price for a ‘business class ticket’ to the UK, it has been claimed. 

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her mother a series of harrowing messages telling her she ‘loved her’ and was ‘dying because she couldn’t breathe’, her family have claimed, leading them to believe she is among the dead.   

Her family say she paid people smugglers £30,000 to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life.’ 

And now, a human rights worker in Vietnam, who was spoken with her family, has revealed that she made the perilous journey because her family was in debt and she was desperately trying to help them.    


The family Pham Thi Tra My, 26, say she paid people smugglers £30,000 to travel to the UK via China ‘in search of a better life.’ A human rights worker, who spoke with the family, has said they were struggling with debt when she decided to make the perilous journey

Another of the suspected victims was revealed to be Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20 (pictured) 


The Vietnamese migrants are all thought to have travelled from the same district, the Can Loc district, which is pictured right. In text messages sent at 10.28pm GMT on Tuesday, Pham Thi Tra told her mother, ‘I love you so much…I’m sorry.’ Pictured left, the screenshot of Tra My’s last text 

‘She had just returned from Japan where she was working to try and pay off the debt. And that was not enough and so she looked for a better future,’ she told the BBC.

Asking to remain anonymous, the human rights worker continued: ‘For this girl it is very sad that she took the risk because she was dealing with debt that was created by another man in the family. 

‘And I also learnt that the service that she was using was called ‘very important service’ and so it is like a business class ticket on the lorry and with that she had to pay double or three times the price of the cheap ticket.’

The human rights worker added that migrants are told they can vast amounts of money by moving to the UK, and the 26-year-old may have been convinced to purchase a ‘VIP ticket’ to get there. 

He family mortgaged the house to get that money for her, the human rights worked added. 

Pham Thi Tra’s last text messages were sent at 10.28pm BST on Tuesday – two hours before the truck reached the UK, as it was en route from Belgium. 

She told her mother: ‘I’m sorry Mum. My journey abroad hasn’t succeeded. Mum, I love you so much. I’m dying because I can’t breathe.’   

Tra My’s brother told the BBC on Friday that his sister had told them not to contact her because ‘the organisers’ did not allow her to receive calls. 

He said she flew to China from her home in Can Lộc, a rural district of Hà Tĩnh Province in Vietnam, then left for France and initially attempted to cross the border into the UK on October 19, but ‘got caught’ and turned back.  

Who has been arrested so far?

As police in the UK continue their investigations into the 39 migrants who lost their lives trying to enter the country, we keep track of who has been arrested so far.

Lorry driver Maurice Mo Robinson: Arrested on suspicion of murder, police also given extra time to quiz the 25-year-old.

Mo Robinson is the truck driver arrested after 39 people were found dead in the back of a lorry he was driving

Joanna Maher, 38, and her husband Thomas, also 38: The Warrington couple who previously told MailOnline they had sold the container are understood to have been held on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter.

Mrs Maher, a mother-of-three, pictured with her trucker boss husband Thomas, told MailOnline that she sold the lorry involved in the deaths of 39 migrants to an Irish haulage firm 13 months ago

48-year-old man from Northern Ireland: The latest arrest took place at Stansted Airport. The identity of the man has not yet been revealed, but police said he has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and suspicion of manslaughter. 

Tra My is thought be among the eight women and 31 men who were discovered inside the ‘metal coffin’ lorry container on Wednesday morning. The Vietnamese families of a 26-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman have also contacted the BBC raising fears they could be among those dead.    

It come as it was revealed the migrants, six of whom were thought to have been Vietnamese, were naked or had minimal clothing when they were found in the container on Wednesday in Purfleet, Essex.  

It is also believed that the Vietnamese migrants are all from the Can Loc district in northern Vietnam and had been ‘banging on the doors’ for help and had ‘foam coming from their mouths’ when found.

Another of the suspected victims was revealed to be Nguyen Dinh Luong, 20. 

His father Nguyen Dinh Gia said his son told him two weeks ago he planned to travel to Britain from France, where he had been living illegally since 2018.

He said he would pay 11,000 pounds ($14,000) for the journey.

But Gia got a call several days ago from a Vietnamese man saying ‘Please have some sympathy, something unexpected happened,’ he told AFP.

‘I fell to the ground when I heard that,’ Gia told AFP.

‘It seemed that he was in the truck with the accident, all of them dead,’ he added.

His father told The Associated Press he had not been able to reach him since last week. He had said he would join a group in Paris that was trying to reach England.

‘He often called home but I haven’t been able to reach him since the last time we talked last week,’ Nguyen Dinh Gia said. ‘I told him that he could go to anywhere he wants as long as it’s safe. He shouldn’t be worry about money, I’ll take care of it.’

He said his son left home in central Ha Tinh province to work in Russia in 2017, then on to Ukraine. In April 2018, he arrived in Germany then traveled to France. He told his family that he wanted to go to the U.K.

Luong’s older brother, Pham Dinh Hai, said that Luong had a tattoo of praying hands on a cross on his right shoulder. The family said they shared the information with local authorities.

This is while a third Vietnamese family said a 19-year-old woman was missing after calling relatives at 6.20am on Tuesday to say she was getting into a container and was turning her phone off.

Bernie Gravett, a former Metropolitan police officer who now advises the EU on human trafficking, said families trying to help their loved ones travel abroad would pay large sums of money to smugglers.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘In Vietnam it is assessed at 20 to 30,000 US dollars, from China it’s 40 to 50,000 US dollars.’

Mr Gravett said identifying the victims found in Essex would be a hard and long process due to the possible use of false identification documents and the numbers of people travelling to Europe.

He said: ‘It’s a cruel stage for the families, because hundreds if not thousands are currently on those routes, so I appreciate we are getting calls from Vietnam saying my loved one is missing and my loved one may be on that lorry but they could be on another lorry.

‘These lorries are coming through on a weekly basis, we have just found one, others get through undetected and the victims then go on to be exploited in the UK.’ 

Police and forensic officers investigate a lorry in which 39 bodies were discovered in the trailer on Wednesday. Sources have now claimed that bloodied hand marks were found inside

Forensic officers are pictured above doing a full sweep of the lorry which had been carrying the migrants across the world

Since Wednesday four people have been arrested in connection with the death of the 39 migrants. Police had initially believed they had come from China

Mr Gravett added: ‘Victims will be given fake documents, so with Chinese generally they are given Korean documents or other documents depending on the country of destination.

‘Most often they are stripped of all documentation so that when they get to the UK then documents are provided relating to this country.’  

It comes as detectives are continuing to question four people over the migrant deaths. 

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.

Hunt for second lorry driver who was caught on CCTV dropping off container in Belgium with 39 doomed migrants 

Police in Belgium have obtained CCTV footage of the haulier who transported the 39 migrants in a freezing container to the UK, after he was filmed ten times at the Zeebrugge site.

Cameras at the port terminal in Belgium snapped the vehicle as it went through the security port terminal, carrying 31 men and eight women.

The terminal is managed by Luxembourg-based company C.RO which is believed to have handed footage to police – a development which could reveal who transported the migrants on the continental part of their ill-fated journey.

According to The Times, police are now focusing their attentions on the driver who delivered the container to the Belgium port and the CCTV footage may be able to identify them.

Dutch language newspaper Het Nieuwsblad quoted one source, thought to have been a Belgium official as saying: ‘We hope to catch him soon. His truck was filmed ten times at the port site’. 

The driver who delivered the unit is thought to have dismissed normal protocol and failed to identify himself, or provide a waybill upon arrival at the port. 

It raises questions about the security of ports across Europe, as the UK are believed to have sent equipment to terminals such as Zeebrugge in order to thwart people smuggling. 

Officers had earlier arrested a couple, 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.

The Maher’s told MailOnline that they sold the lorry cab a year ago to a company in Ireland – but police officers investigating the tragedy raided their property yesterday. The refrigerated trailer carrying the 39 frozen trafficking victims is believed to be owned by a rental firm in Dublin.

A Cheshire Police patrol car arrived at the Irish couple’s house at 7am on Thursday before up to a dozen police officers went inside at around Midday – just before the arrests were announced. The pair have not been seen.  

Earlier this week Mrs Maher told MailOnline: ‘It’s the cab – my name was down as owning it. 

‘We did own it but sold it 13 months ago’, adding they sold it to a company in County Monaghan, close to where truck driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, lives.

Police are also questioning the Northern Irish trucker for the third day with a decision on whether to charge him with murder or release him. 

An Essex Police spokesman said: ‘We have carried out warrants in Cheshire as part of the investigation into 39 bodies being discovered in a lorry trailer in Grays.

‘As a result, a 38-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman from Warrington have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter. A 25-year-old man, the driver of the lorry, remains in custody on suspicion of murder’.   

The container carrying migrants had previously criss-crossed the Channel via refugee hotspots in the week before it arrived in Britain with 39 frozen bodies inside, perhaps for several days, it was revealed yesterday. 

Yesterday their bodies were moved by private ambulance from Tilbury docks to Chelmsford mortuary for post-examinations that will run into next week.                

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.

This harrowing image shows a fleet of private ambulances arriving at Tilbury Docks to take away the victims on Friday

Final journey: How the 39 tragic migrants ended up in Purfleet, Essex, dead in the back of a refrigerated biscuit lorry

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.

Relatives of 26-year-old Pham Tra My told the broadcaster they have not been able to contact her since she sent a text on Tuesday night saying she was suffocating.

‘I am really, really sorry, Mum and Dad, my trip to a foreign land has failed,’ she wrote.

‘I am dying, I can’t breathe. I love you very much Mum and Dad. I am sorry, Mother.’

Her 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.

The industrial estate where the 39 migrants were found frozen to death in the back of a lorry remains sealed off on Friday as police questioned the driver for a third day

Police at the Warrington home of Joanna Maher, 38, and her husband Thomas, also 38, yesterday where the couple are understood to have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter

Robinson arrived in the UK at the weekend after a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. He picked up the trailer, which had been shipped from Zeebrugge to Purfleet. Minutes later, he pulled into the Essex industrial estate and the alarm was raised

Two houses have been raided by police in Northern Ireland – one belonging to the lorry driver in Markethill and the other belonging to his parents in Laurelvale, both Co Armagh. A third house in Armagh City has also been raided

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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