British police investigating the discovery of 39 bodies in a truck on Friday said they had arrested two people on suspicion of manslaughter and conspiracy to traffic people.
Eight women and 31 men, believed to be Chinese nationals, were found in the refrigerated trailer on Wednesday, in a case that has shocked Britain.
After detaining a 25-year-old truck driver from Northern Ireland at the scene on suspicion of murder, Essex police confirmed two additional arrests on Friday.
A man and a woman, both aged 38 and from Warrington in Cheshire, northwest England, “have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic people and on suspicion of 39 counts of manslaughter”, the force said.
The first autopsies were to take place Friday as investigators attempt to establish how they died before the work begins on trying to identify the victims.
Ambulances had been called to a parked-up truck in an industrial zone in Grays, east of London, early Wednesday but all the victims inside were already dead.
The refrigerated trailer had arrived at nearby Purfleet on the River Thames estuary on a ferry from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge just over an hour before ambulance crews called the police at 1:40 am.
The truck which collected the trailer had left the port 35 minutes before that call.
The first 11 corpses were recovered from the trailer on Thursday and taken to a nearby hospital mortuary. Autopsies will attempt to establish how the victims died.
“Formal identification will then follow… and will be a lengthy but crucial part of this investigation. As our investigations continue, the picture may change regarding identification,” the police said Friday.
Detectives have also searched three addresses in Northern Ireland.
The police investigation is Britain’s largest murder probe since the 2005 London suicide bombings.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Wednesday’s discovery as an “unimaginable tragedy”.
Questions have been raised about when the victims entered the refrigerated trailer, where temperatures can be as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit).
The crossing to Purfleet from Zeebrugge, one of the world’s busiest ports for cargo on trucks, takes nine to 12 hours.
Belgian investigators were working to establish where the trailer came from before reaching the port.
“We have ways to reconstruct the route of the container but it’s not instantaneous, it can take time,” Eric Van Duyse, spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, told AFP.
‘Magnet for illegals’
People living close to the port at Purfleet said illegal immigrants were a familiar sight.
“It’s a magnet for illegals,” said Janet Lilley, 61.
“People would come strolling out of the docks, get in the vans and that’s it, they drive off.”
Lee Tubby, 45, who lives opposite the port, said he has seen people “climbing out the top and out the back” of trucks and cutting the plastic roof covering to climb through.
“We’ve had people just come out of the port knocking on the door asking for shoes, asking for water,” he said.
Meanwhile, Beijing-based political analyst Hua Po said the flow of Chinese workers to Europe has gone up as “China’s own policy has become more and more conservative and closed” under President Xi Jinping.
“The survival of private enterprises is becoming more and more difficult, resulting in an increase in the number of unemployed people,” Hua told AFP.
Philip Hammond’s resignation Wednesday as UK finance minister thrusts the understated political veteran into the frontlines of a brewing revolt against new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit strategy.
The 63-year-old Oxford University graduate is one of Britain’s most respected officials among European leaders and a champion of London’s strategically vital financial hub.
Both hope he finds a way to keep Johnson from pulling Britain out of the European Union without a divorce agreement on October 31 — the “no-deal” option that experts think will sink markets and cripple trade.
Former London mayor Johnson was sworn into office Wednesday after pledging not to seek any further Brexit extensions, “do or die, come what may”.
But Hammond — nicknamed “Spreadsheet Phil” for his dogged devotion to strict budgets — has been that nagging voice who has kept telling Johnson that his promises of a bright no-deal Brexit future are misguided and dangerous.
“I will do everything I can from the backbench to ensure that parliament blocks a no-deal,” Hammond said a few days before he formally quit.
Hammond’s bookish looks and gentlemanly charm go along with an entrepreneurial spirit and a fervent belief in Britain’s ability to be a forceful voice on the world stage.
The Financial Times newspaper once called him “the product of Britain’s swashbuckling (Margaret) Thatcher era: a risk-taker whose business ventures sometimes did not pay off.”
Most of them initially did not — one venture to sell trips to Iran was thwarted by the 1979 Islamic revolution.
He eventually stumbled onto a profitable property development venture that reportedly made him into a millionaire with the confidence to enter politics.
There he excelled like few in his generation.
He was elected to parliament in 1997 and became transport minister when the Conservatives returned to government in 2010 under prime minister David Cameron.
Hammond later served as defence minister and then foreign secretary — a post that saw him cross paths with Iran again when Britain helped negotiate the 2015 accord with other world powers that limited Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
But he leaves the halls of power for the backbenches of parliament with a feeling of mission not quite accomplished.
“There’s quite a sense of things that we wanted to do, things that I wanted to take further,” he told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast earlier this month.
“I hope we’ve started them, but it would have been nice to have seen some of them finished,” he said.
“Yeah — a bit of sadness about that.”
Yet Hammond could still play a key role in deciding Britain’s future over the coming months.
A few dozen Conservative MPs are also openly trying to strip their own incoming party leader of the option of leaving with no-deal when the already twice-delayed Brexit deadline strikes next on October 31.
Hammond has the political gravitas and the ideological credentials to lead them.
He instinctively mistrusts European political institutions and their reams of red tape.
Hammond told the BBC he was once “quite happy to see the EU as something quite alien that was done to us”.
But he also argues that his nation of 66 million has become too “dependent” on the other 27 EU member states over the past 46 years to simply break away overnight.
Fears about losing access to the single European market of 500 million people saw Hammond vote “Remain” in the 2016 EU membership referendum.
Johnson fronted the “Leave” effort and now surrounds himself with fellow Brexit supporters who have spent weeks angling for Hammond’s coveted portfolio.
Hammond said with self-deprecating humour that losing ministerial privileges such as the chauffeured limousine might come as a slight shock.
“You know you are no longer a government minister when you get in the back of the car and it fails to move away from the kerb,” he joked in the BBC podcast.
“Probably just re-grounding yourself, in reality, is not a bad thing.”
London Saturday advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz for “an interim period” following Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.
“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s unacceptable actions which represent a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation,” a government spokeswoman said following an overnight meeting of the government’s COBRA emergencies committee to discuss the crisis.
“We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period.”
She noted comments by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier that “there will be serious consequences if the situation is not resolved”.
She added that there will be further meetings over the weekend and “we remain in close contact with our international partners”.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Friday it had seized the British-flagged Swedish-owned Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules”.
Iranian authorities alleged Saturday the ship had collided with a fishing boat. It said the tanker was now at anchor off the port of Bandar Abbas with all its crew aboard.
A British-flagged tanker seized by Iran is now at anchor off the port of Bandar Abbas with all its crew aboard after colliding with a fishing boat, authorities said on Saturday.
“The British tanker Stena Impero collided with a fishing boat on its route and, according to law, after an accident it is necessary that the cause of the accident are investigated,” said Allah-Morad Afifipoor, director-general of the Hormozgan province port and maritime organisation.
The Swedish-owned Stena Impero “has 23 crew and they are all on the ship” off Bandar Abbas, he said, quoted by Fars news agency.
Eighteen crew were Indian, including the captain, and the rest were from the Philippines, Latvia and Russia.
Following the collision, those on board the fishing boat “contacted the British vessel but didn’t receive any response”, he added.
“When the British vessel did not respond to the fishing boat, they informed the Hormozgan port and maritime office according to the legal procedures.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Friday it had seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules”.
Britain said Iran had seized two vessels in the Gulf, but the British owner of one of the tankers, the Liberian-flagged Mesdar, said it had been temporarily boarded by armed personnel, but was free to leave and that all crew were “safe and well.”
The British government on Wednesday launched its search for the next governor of the Bank of England, with Mark Carney due to step down early next year.
Finance minister Philip Hammond praised Carney as a “steady hand” who steered the economy through “a challenging period” following Britain’s 2016 Brexit vote.
Canadian national Carney, 54, took up the post on July 1, 2013, and will leave on January 31 next year, having extended his tenure twice due to Brexit uncertainty.
“In today’s rapidly evolving economy the role of governor is more important than ever,” said Hammond, whose official title is chancellor of the exchequer.
“Finding a candidate with the right skills and experience to lead the Bank of England is vital for ensuring the continuing strength of our economy and for maintaining the UK’s position as a leading global financial centre.”
The Treasury said it will employ a specialist head hunter to find Carney’s successor, with interviews expected over the summer ahead of an autumn appointment.
The annual salary for the position stands at £480,000 ($622,400, 554,000 euros).
“We are prepared to pause, should the government come to the negotiating table,” Extinction Rebellion spokesman James Fox told AFP.
“What the pause looks like is us stopping an escalation.
“We can discuss leaving if they are willing to discuss our demands.
“At the moment, we haven’t received a response from the government… so we’re waiting on that.”
Extinction Rebellion was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements.
Campaigners want governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice.
“We’re giving them an opportunity now to come and speak to us,” Fox told AFP.
“If they don’t take that opportunity, and if they refuse to come and negotiate with us, then this is going to continue and this is going to escalate in different, diverse and very creative ways.”
Mayor: time to stop
Police said they had managed to clear the Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus junctions of protesters, who remain in place on Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square.
“We remain in frequent contact with the organisers to ensure that the serious disruption to Londoners is brought to a close as soon as possible and that only lawful and peaceful protests continue,” the police said in a statement.
Calling for an end to the protests, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said more than 9,000 police officers had been responding to the demonstrations, which had left the force as a whole overstretched.
“This is now taking a real toll on our city — our communities, businesses and police. This is counter-productive to the cause and our city,” he said.
“I’m extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like a violent crime if they continue any longer. It simply isn’t right to put Londoners’ safety at risk.
“You must now let London return to business as usual.”
In the blazing sunshine on Waterloo Bridge, police lifted protesters and carried them off to waiting for police vans.
“I’m genuinely terrified. I think about it all the time. I’m so scared for the world. I feel like there is going to be calamity in my lifetime,” student Amber Gray told AFP.
“I don’t even feel comfortable bringing children into this world knowing that that is coming.
“And I don’t want people in the future to say to me, ‘why didn’t you do anything?'”
Retiree Kathy Hayman said politicians were “ignoring and denying”.
“I’m amazed really at the lack of consciousness that they have and the lack of responsibility.”
British MPs will attempt to chart a new Brexit path on Monday after rejecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for a third time, leaving her strategy in tatters and the country in limbo.
With less than two weeks to go until the day Britain risks crashing out of the European Union, MPs will hold a series of votes to try and find a majority-backed plan to end the current crisis.
Britain voted by 52 per cent to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum but the process has been mired in divisions between Brexit supporters over the terms of the divorce and what kind of future ties to seek.
The government struck a deal with the EU in November, but parliament has refused to ratify it — forcing the government to seek a delay to the originally planned departure date of March 29.
The EU’s offer of an extension until May 22 was conditional on MPs approving the deal last week.
Despite May’s promise to step down if they voted for the deal — an attempt to get Brexit hardliners to vote for it –, they failed to do so.
No more delay
The government must now make a new request to the European Union at an extraordinary summit on April 10 or leave the bloc without a deal on April 12 with potentially chaotic economic consequences.
A longer delay beyond May 22 would have the bizarre consequence of Britain having to hold European Parliament elections like other member states.
Parliament seized the initiative for one day last week but failed to unite around a single option that could replace May’s deal.
Frustration is growing within the bloc, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday telling an Italian TV station that the EU is running out of patience with Britain.
“With our British friends we have had a lot of patience, but even patience is running out,” Juncker told Italian public TV channel Rai 1 on Sunday.
“Up to now, we know what the British parliament says no to, but we do not know what it says yes to.”
However, there appears to be momentum behind a plan to seek a deal that would see Britain stay in some kind of customs union with the European Union.
While this may satisfy the pro-EU members of May’s cabinet, it threatens mass rebellion among the rest of her ministers, posing a serious threat to the government’s survival.
Brexit-supporting minister Andrea Leadsom has organised a letter signed by 10 cabinet members demanding that there be no further extension beyond May 22, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
The letter also spells out that May must stand by her party’s manifesto pledge to leave the customs union in order to be able to strike post-Brexit trade deals with other countries.
General election threat
Agreeing to seek a customs union, if demanded by MPs, could, therefore, trigger a mass ministerial walkout.
But so could ignoring MPs’ instructions, with pro-EU ministers having already quit voting against the government.
All of which leaves a general election looking ever more likely, with May herself last week warning after the third rejection of her deal that “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House”.
Conservative MPs across the board said they would block such a move, which requires two-thirds support in parliament.
Polling on Sunday signalled why.
The party has slipped seven per cent, according to the Sunday Mail, putting Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour on course to be the largest party if an election were held.
Conservative Party deputy chairman James Cleverly said on Sunday that the party was not preparing for a snap election.
“I don’t think an election would solve anything. Time is of the essence, we have got Brexit to deliver. We don’t want to add any more unnecessary delay,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News.
The slip in support coincides with the party’s failure to deliver Brexit on March 29, upsetting its supporters who voted heavily in favour of leaving the EU.
The poll also found narrow support for a second referendum.
May is also facing mass calls from her own MPs to quit immediately as leader of the party — and country — rather than wait until the divorce phase of Brexit has been resolved, as promised.
She has yet to give up on her deal despite it being rejected three times by parliament and is reportedly considering whether to bring it back for a fourth vote, potentially this week.
A teenager who joined the Islamic State group in Syria but now wants to return to Britain on Sunday gave birth in a refugee camp, as European governments grapple with what to do with returning jihadists ahead of a US troop pullout.
Shamima Begum, whose fate has stirred controversy ever since she and two friends fled London to join the terror network in 2015 aged just 15, told Sky News she had delivered a boy.
“I just gave birth so I’m really tired,” the 19-year-old said as she made a renewed appeal to be allowed back to Britain with her newborn baby.
“I’m afraid he might even die in this camp. I feel a lot of people should have sympathy for me, for everything I’ve been through,” she said.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left. I just was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they let me come back,” she added.
Her case comes as European nations struggle with how to deal with jihadists eager to return home following the disintegration of Islamic State’s “caliphate” in eastern Syria.
US President Donald Trump again demanded on Saturday that they take back hundreds of captured IS fighters.
Trump said on Twitter that the United States was asking Britain and other continental allies “to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial”.
The demand came as he prepared — ahead of the pullout of US troops — to declare the group’s so-called “caliphate” destroyed, with US-led Arab and Kurdish forces close to capturing its last Syrian territorial holdout.
“The US does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe,” Trump added.
“Time for others to step up and do the job that they are so capable of doing. We are pulling back after 100% Caliphate victory!”
‘I don’t regret it’
Begum, previously gave birth to two other children after marrying in Syria. Both children died.
Leading politicians, including interior minister Sajid Javid, have vowed to prevent her return, pointing to her lack of remorse for joining the terror group.
Begum told Sky News she was aware of IS’s brutal tactics, including conducting beheadings but did not regret going to Syria.
“I knew about those things and I was OK with it at first,” she said. “They take care of you… you’re living under Islamic law.
“I don’t regret it because it’s changed me as a person, made me stronger, tougher.”
The teenager, who said she had had no contact with British officials, added the government should not block her homecoming because she was “just a housewife” while there.
“I never made propaganda, I never encouraged people to come to Syria.
“They don’t really have proof that I did anything that is dangerous,” she said.
Europe has long been grappling with how to respond to foreign fighters, and their supporters or dependants, caught in Syria.
However, the looming US departure has created a deadline for those governments whose citizens joined IS and have now been captured by the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Britain’s government appears split on the issue.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, a former attorney general — the country’s chief legal adviser — told the BBC on Sunday that it was “obliged, at some stage at least, to take them back”.
He noted it was “a matter of international law and domestic law”.
However, writing in The Sunday Times — under the headline “if you run away to join ISIS, I will use all my power to stop you coming back” — Javid insisted the government should strip “dangerous individuals of their British citizenship”.
He said Britain had already exercised this power more than 100 times.
“In considering what actions need to be taken now, I have to think about the safety and security of children living in our country,” Javid wrote.
Other European countries that have chosen to leave the jihadists in SDF detention are now being forced to confront the situation.
“All German citizens — including those who are suspected of fighting for the so-called Islamic state — have a fundamental right to travel back into Germany,” a German foreign ministry source said Sunday.
Belgian justice minister Koen Geens told Flemish broadcaster VRT there was the need for a “European solution” to the issue, but appeared irked by Trump’s blunt call.
“It would have been nice for friendly nations to have these kinds of questions raised through the usual diplomatic channels rather than a tweet in the middle of the night,” he said in Dutch.