A missing Vietnamese woman who texted her mother to say “I can’t breathe” is feared to be among 39 people found dead in a refrigerated trailer in Essex.
Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent a message saying “I’m dying” at the time the lorry was being shipped from Belgium to the UK on Tuesday night. She has not been heard from since.
Detectives had initially believed all 31 men and eight women found in the trailer were Chinese, but on Friday night they said the nationality of those killed was “now a developing picture”.
Details of possible Vietnamese victims emerged as police arrested a third person on suspicion of people trafficking and manslaughter.
Ms Pham was known to have planned to travel to England, according to a human rights group in contact with her family. Her brother told the BBC they had paid £30,000 to people smugglers and her last known location had been Belgium.
Hoa Nghiem, a Hanoi-based activist with Human Rights Space, said the family was worried their daughter was among the victims as “the last dying text from her was coincidently in time”.
She shared a screenshot and a translation of the message, which read: “I’m sorry Mom. My path to abroad doesn’t succeed. Mom, I love you so much! I’m dying bcoz I can’t breath… I’m from Nghen, Can Loc, Ha Tinh, Vietnam… I am sorry, Mom”.
The text was sent at 4.28am on Wednesday Vietnamese time, the screenshot shows. In Britain the time would have been 10.28pm, when the trailer was in transit between Zebrugge and Purrfleet.
The bodies were found on an industrial estate in Grays just over three hours later.
An Essex Police spokeswoman told The Independent officers who had received no information indicating whether Ms Pham was among the victims. In a statement issued on Friday night, deputy chief constable Pippa Mills said the force “will not be commenting on any speculation about the nationalities of those who have tragically lost their lives”.
She added: “We owe it to those who have died to get this investigation right and speculation is not helpful. It may in fact hinder our investigation and its progress.
“We gave an initial steer on Thursday on nationality, however this is now a developing picture. As such I will not be drawn on any further detail until formal identification processes approved by Her Majesty’s Coroner have taken place.”
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