Police today appealed to Britain’s most wanted brothers to hand themselves in over their links to the 39 migrants found dead in the back of a lorry.
Hauliers Ronan and Chris Hughes, from Co Armagh, are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking but have vanished over the past ten days.
At a press conference in Belfast today, Essex Police revealed that police in Northern Ireland chased and pulled over one of their lorries yesterday afternoon but the siblings were not inside.
It raises the extraordinary prospect that the alleged people traffickers may well have been smuggled out of the UK by HGV – or ship – themselves.
Detectives also confirmed reports in Belfast two days ago that Ronan Hughes, who is believed to own the lorry in which the bodies were found, phoned police shortly after the grim discovery was made on Wednesday October 23 to claim the driver Mo Robinson, 25, was ‘legit’.
His brother Chris has also reportedly been seen walking around his hometown of Monaghan near the Northern Irish border, but has also not been found.
Haulier brother Ronan and Chris Hughes, from Co Armagh, are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking but have vanished
Essex Police today revealed that police in Northern Ireland chased and pulled over one of their lorries near Lisburn yesterday afternoon but the siblings were not inside
Essex Police Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten told reporters at a press conference in Northern Ireland: ‘Today I want to make a direct appeal – Ronan and Christopher, hand yourselves in.
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Stoten from Essex Police during a press conference at the headquarters of the PSNI, Belfast, where he asked for the Hughes brothers to hand themselves in
‘We need you both to come forward and assist this investigation. Although we have already spoken to Ronan Hughes recently by telephone we need to have a conversation with him and his brother in person.
‘Talking to Ronan and Christopher is crucial to our investigation and the sooner we can make this happen the sooner we can progress and continue with our investigation.’
In the 2am call, he is said to have claimed that the driver, Mo Robinson, had nothing to do with people smuggling and didn’t know of the container’s cargo.
A source told BelfastLive: ‘Hughes confirmed he knew Robinson and pushed to get a number of questions answered. He gave his [own] date of birth and an address.
‘We believe he was trying to establish how much and what information the police had at that time. He appeared willing to co-operate with police but he has not been contactable since.’
Ronan Hughes is alleged to have driven the refrigerated trailer from its depot near the Irish border on October 15 after signing a lease document, sources have told the Daily Mail.
According to GPS data, it travelled through Wales and England, crossed the Channel to Calais, returned to Kent and then made a second crossing to travel through France and Belgium. It is unclear who was involved in driving for much of the journey.
Police impounded a second cab – believed to be owned by Ronan Hughes – in Dublin on Saturday, which is suspected of having delivered the trailer with its doomed passengers to Zeebrugge docks before it crossed the Channel last week.
The Mail approached Hughes at his large, new-build detached house in County Monaghan in the Republic last week but he told the reporter to leave , saying: ‘Get off my f****** street, you cheeky b******.’
Ronan Hughes was previously jailed for two and a half years after he was found with six million cigarettes hidden in fruit pallets at the Port of Dover.
The investigation into the deaths of the 39 victims is the biggest such investigation in Essex Police’s history.
MailOnline has visited the address reportedly given on the lease document for the container by a ‘Ronan Hughes’. Those at the address declined to comment
The investigation was launched after 39 people were found dead in this lorry in Essex last week
Pham Tra My, 26, was the first person named by family as among the 39 dead in the container tragedy and it appears she may have been deported from Britain days earlier
This is the last photo of 15-year-old Nguyen Huy Hung, who has been missing since he tried to cross illegally to Britain, his family claim
Who has been arrested or charged so far?
These are the people who have been arrested, charged or bailed by police.
Lorry driver Maurice Robinson: Arrested on suspicion of murder, the 25-year-old was charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, people trafficking and money laundering. He appeared in court in Chelmsford and will appear again at the Old Bailey next month.
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. They have been bailed until next month.
Man, 48, 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.
Man, 20, from Northern Ireland: Arrested after getting off a ferry on Saturday afternoon.A blue Scania truck that he was driving has been impounded by the police.
Senior security sources told the Irish Daily Mail that an elite squad of the Irish gardaí are ‘assisting’ UK police with the investigation.
Essex Police yesterday said Ronan Hughes – who also goes by Rowan – and his brother are both from Armagh in Northern Ireland. Appealing to the public, Detective Chief Superintendent Stuart Hooper, who is leading the inquiry, said: ‘Finding and speaking to the Hughes brothers is crucial to our investigation.
‘At this time we believe they are in Northern Ireland but they also have links to the Irish Republic.
‘This is a case where 39 men and women have tragically died and support from the community is going to be vital to help bring those responsible to justice.’
Lorry driver Maurice ‘Mo’ Robinson, 25, who collected the trailer last Wednesday has been charged with 39 counts of manslaughter.
Another driver, who is suspected of bringing the container to Zeebrugge before it crossed the Channel, is due to appear in court in Dublin today on unrelated charges.
The bodies were found in a refrigerated trailer attached to a lorry in an industrial park in Grays in the early hours of last Wednesday.
The container was picked up at Purfleet in a cab driven by Robinson, from Craigavon in Northern Ireland.
Nguyen Van Hung’s shocked family have not heard from him since October 21st when he sent a message saying he was ‘going by taxi’ to the UK