Essex lorry deaths: Services for Vietnamese victims


Church service

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The Reverend Simon Nguyen, who led the service, said the victims lost their lives “seeking freedom, dignity and happiness”

Services have been held in memory of the 39 Vietnamese victims found dead in a lorry container in Essex.

More than 100 people attended the service at the Church of the Holy Name and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in east London on Saturday evening.

The Reverend Simon Nguyen, who led the service, said the 39 died “seeking freedom, dignity and happiness”.

At Mass on at the same church on Sunday Bishop Nicholas Hudson also asked for prayers for traffickers.

It was confirmed by police on Friday that all of those who were found were Vietnamese. Police had initially believed they were Chinese.

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Candles were arranged into a figure of 39 to represent the number who died

At the service on Saturday evening, prayers were heard and members of the Catholic congregation performed readings and candles were lit.

“We show our condolences and sympathies for the people who have lost their lives on the way seeking freedom, dignity and happiness,” said Mr Nguyen.

“We ask God to welcome them into his kingdom even though some of them were not Catholic but they strongly believed in eternal peace, so we pray for them.”

After the service he said: “The people here are very united because we are all refugees.

“All the people here – most of the Vietnamese – came here as refugees in the ’70s and the ’80s and the ’90s.”

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The Catholic church in East London has a large Vietnamese congregation

He said in those decades, the disappearances of people from Vietnam were “not reported by the media, but many of them died”.

“These victims [who died in the lorry last month], this tragedy, was reported but many tragedies to the Vietnamese no-one [knows about],” he said.

A memorial Mass on Sunday began with a projection of the trailer containing the bodies being removed from the industrial estate.

After a minute’s silence, Bishop Hudson said the service was to pray for the relations of congregation members who could be among the dead.

He also asked for prayers for the emergency service staff who attended the scene.

Bishop Hudson also sought prayers for traffickers, who he hoped “as a result of this tragedy may have had a change of heart”.

About 7% of Vietnam’s population class themselves as Catholic, although the figure is higher in the area of the country where many of the missing people come from.

In the past some Catholics have had a fractious relationship with Vietnam’s communist government.

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Pham Thi Tra My and Nguyen Dinh Luong’s families are concerned they may be among the victims

Essex Police said it was now in “direct contact with a number of families in Vietnam and the UK” and the Vietnamese Government.

A number of Vietnamese families have previously come forward fearing their loved ones are among the dead.

Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her family a message on the night of 22 October – the day before the 39 people were found dead – saying her “trip to a foreign land has failed”.

The father of 30-year-old Le Van Ha, who comes from an agricultural part of Vietnam, previously told the BBC he was convinced his son was among the dead.

Post-mortem examinations are being carried out on the 31 men and eight women to establish the cause of their deaths.

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The bodies were discovered in the lorry trailer in the early hours of 23 October

The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, appeared in court on Monday charged with a string of offences, including 39 counts of manslaughter.

Extradition proceedings have also begun against 22-year-old Eamonn Harrison, who was arrested in Dubin on a European Arrest Warrant.

Police are also seeking two brothers from Northern Ireland, Ronan and Christopher Hughes, who are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and people trafficking.

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