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  1. ITV Report

Essex lorry deaths echo 2000 tragedy at Dover where 58 Chinese immigrants died

The container that carried dead asylum seekers into Dover. Credit: PA

The discovery of 39 bodies inside a lorry container in Essex echoes an incident in 2000 when the bodies of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found in Dover.

A major crackdown on stowaways was launched after the 58 bodies were found in a sealed, airless container at Dover port on June 18, 2000. Two young men survived the ordeal.

Post-mortem examinations confirmed death was due to respiratory failure through asphyxiation.

A remembrance vigil after the tragedy at Dover. Credit: Fiona Hanson/PA

The Dutch driver of the lorry, Perry Wacker, was jailed for 14 years in April 2001 for the manslaughter of the immigrants, who had paid a criminal gang thousands to be smuggled into the UK.

Seven men were later jailed by a Dutch court for their role in the human-smuggling operation.

An inquest heard how the 58 immigrants banged frantically on the inside of the container as their air supply ran out.

Coroner’s officer Graham Perrin said a vent at the side of the refrigeration container had been closed before the lorry went on to a ferry at Zeebrugge, shutting off the air supply to the 56 young men and four young women.

He said the two survivors, who were found unconscious by customs officers, survived because more air became available inside the container with the death of each occupant.

Migrants on the roof of a lorry as it moves along the A16 in Calais, France. Credit: PA

Migrant smuggling gangs are a “massive issue” for lorry drivers, the boss of a haulage trade association has warned.

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, said drivers are targeted by the groups “week in, week out” and that those behind the human trafficking employ “very sophisticated” techniques to gain access to trailers and containers.

He said: “Drivers are facing challenges from smugglers and from gangs continuously.

"They have to be very careful about where they park up, they have to be very careful about checking seals on their trailers to make sure nobody has broken in."