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Monday, 19 June, 2000, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Lorry deaths 'warning to others'
Experts search for evidence at Dover
Investigations are under way after the grisly find
The deaths of 58 people in a refrigated lorry bound for Dover must serve as a stark warning to others tempted to use criminal trafficking gangs, Home Secretary Jack Straw has said.

And Asian countries in particular must learn from the tragedy and co-operate more to prevent the trade in immigrants, Mr Straw said.

Let no-one be in any doubt that this is a profoundly evil trade, whose perpetrators have no regard for human life

Jack Straw
The home secretary issued his warnings after the bodies of 54 men and four women were discovered in the back of a lorry which had come from Zeebrugge.

Mr Straw said that the prime minister would raise the incident with other European leaders at the EU summit in Portugal.

Tony Blair would stress the need for ever better international co-operation against people traffickers, he said.

'A most terrible death'

In a statement to MPs, Mr Straw said: "This was a most terrible human tragedy ... The vehicle concerned was a refrigerated lorry which had been hermetically sealed and the 58 who perished must have died a most terrible death."

Two survivors, both men, have been taken to hospital.

Police at the docks in Dover
A criminal investigation has been launched

The home secretary harshly condemned the trafficking gangs.

He said the dead were the victims of serious organised criminals who make huge profits from smuggling illegal immigrants. The government was determined to crack down on the trade.

"Let no-one be in any doubt that this is a profoundly evil trade, whose perpetrators have no regard for human life," said Mr Straw.

"These organised, criminal groups do not care about human safety. They care only for profit and this appalling tragedy is a grim reminder of this," he said.

"I am afraid to say that this terrible tragedy must serve as a stark warning to others who might be tempted to place their fate in the hands of organised traffickers."

'Tragedy waiting to happen'

And he paid tribute to the customs officers, Kent police, civilian staff and immigration service workers for their great dedication and professionalism in dealing with a "deeply traumatic" situation.

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe said many people might say this had been a tragedy waiting to happen.

Jack Straw
Jack Straw: "Gangs do not care about human life"
Joining the praise for the authorities at Dover, she urged Mr Straw to put pressure on other governments to provide "secure and well-lit areas" for lorry drivers to carry out checks.

She also asked for more details on when the lorry had been inspected before arriving at Dover.

Checks outside Britain were not as rigorous as they could be, she said. And lorry drivers were compulsorily separated from their vehicles during ferry crossings.

Security discussions

Mr Straw replied that last week he had been discussing in Lisbon co-operation with other EU interior ministers on cracking down on "asylum shopping".

Progress had been made on checking those boarding Eurostar trains, he said.

Discussions were going on with other authorities including hauliers, about improving port security.

Since the latest tragedy, he had had a meeting with P&O chairman Lord Sterling.

This year, the government has already introduced 2,000 fines for any lorry driver caught carrying stowaways.

International policing

Mr Straw said the driver penalties had already resulted in a 26% drop in illegal immigrants.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said the traffickers in human life should be tracked "down to the ends of the earth" and punished as severely as possible. He also called for better international policing.

But the government had not answered how people wishing to seek asylum could do so lawfully. They were bound to use illegal methods, he said.

Mr Straw said co-operation within Europe was improving gradually.

"But we have some way to go before we have properly sensitised a number of other governments, particularly some of those in Asia, about the need for their full co-operation, in practice as well as in principle, with the steps they have to initiate to avoid this terrible traffic."

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