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Wednesday, June 21, 2000, updated at 15:43(GMT+8)

Dutch Police Make Arrest over Deaths of Stowaways

Dutch police last night arrested a man in connection with the deaths of 58 Chinese found in the back of a truck in Britain on Monday.

The suspect was detained in raids on three houses in the town of Rotterdam, following a request from British authorities. The truck in which the bodies were found was from the Netherlands. Prosecutors would not comment on whether the suspect was Arjen van der Speck, the 24-year-old owner of the transport company, whom police have been looking for.

British detectives appealed for help from Beijing to identify the 54 men and four women, who they said were from Fujian and were all in their early 20s. They will begin taking fingerprints and DNA samples to try to establish their identities.

The truck driver was detained on suspicion of manslaughter, while two men found alive in the back of the truck were being treated under police guard at a Kent hospital.

Details emerged Monday of a conversation the pair had with an interpreter describing the moments of panic as their air began to run out in the air-tight compartment.

"They were all clawing at the inside of the back door. They said it was very dark inside and they were tripping over bodies as they tried to make their way to the doors," a hospital staff member said. "They banged on the doors and shouted at the top of their voices but eventually they had to give up through weakness.

"They had no idea how many of those in the trailer had died until they got to the hospital. One man said it was like an angel had been sent from heaven when the back door was finally opened. By the time they were brought here, they were both extremely dehydrated and very weak. We managed to patch them up pretty quickly by giving them lots of fluids, but I think the psychological torment will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

Only the survivors and the driver know how long they had been packed into the tiny space on one of the hottest days of the year. It is likely the survivors would have died too if the driver had not aroused the suspicions of Customs officers. The two men were still too traumatised to talk to police. The pair, who are in a stable condition, were being kept under police armed guard because of fears their lives might be in danger from the criminals who arranged their passage to Britain.

Two pathologists were still trying to establish the cause of death of the 58, but said after examining about half the bodies that indications pointed to some form of respiratory failure.

British police were liaising with their counterparts in Beijing, the Chinese Embassy in London and the Chinese community.

Detective Superintendent Dennis McGookin, who is leading the investigation, urged anyone in the Chinese community who thought their relatives might be among those who died to come forward.

London-based solicitor Wahplow Tan said three Chinese families living in Britain had contacted him about fears their relatives might be among the bodies. Mr Tan said the families were distressed, but too scared to speak to police because their own status in Britain was "questionable".

"They told me they had relatives whom they were expecting to come to England at this time. They are fearful that they were in the truck," he said.

He called on Home Secretary Jack Straw to offer an amnesty to anyone wanting to give information about relatives they were expecting to join them in Britain.

Mr McGookin pledged that the perpetrators would be tracked down. "We are determined . . . those responsible for the deaths of these young people will be brought to justice."

In This Section

Dutch police last night arrested a man in connection with the deaths of 58 Chinese found in the back of a truck in Britain on Monday.

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