Today (Sunday 23 October) a memorial service was held at West Thurrock Memorial Ground, to remember the 39 Vietnamese people whose bodies were found on Eastern Avenue in Thurrock in October 2019, having tragically lost their lives at the hands of organised criminal gangs.
A memorial was unveiled at the event, along with 39 trees that have been planted to stand tall in the memorial ground.
The highly emotive service was led by Reverend Cannon Darren Barlow and attended by dignitaries including Cllr Qaisar Abbas, Cabinet Member for Culture and Communities at Thurrock Council, Ben-Julian Harrington, Chief Constable Essex Police, Roger Hirst Police Fire and Crime Commissioner and To Minh Thu, Counsellor, Deputy Chief of Mission from the Embassy of Vietnam.
Father Joseph Cuong, a Vietnamese priest from Augustinian of the Assumption, Bethnal Green, also spoke at the event on behalf of Father Simon Thang Duc Nguyen, a Vietnamese priest from London who had recently travelled to Vietnam to meet the families of victims.
Cllr Qaisar Abbas said: "It was important to come together today to remember the 31 men and 8 women from Vietnam who were so tragically found in Thurrock 3 years ago. The third anniversary is particularly significant in Vietnamese culture which is why the service was specifically organised for today.
"The victims were in the prime of their lives, aged between 15 and 39, including 10 teenagers, and all seeking to start a better life. We remember them and their families today and hold them in our hearts on this, the third anniversary of their death.
"I would like to thank the staff from many different organisations who worked tirelessly on the response to this terrible incident, for the respect and dignity they showed the bereaved families and the determination they showed in bringing those who caused this tragedy to justice. Many were here in attendance today, and I would like to personally thank them all for the professionalism, diligence and resilience they demonstrated at what would have been an incredibly difficult time."
Essex Police Chief Constable, Ben-Julian Harrington, said: "The events of the early hours of Wednesday 23 October 2019 are etched on the minds of all of us. Nothing could have prepared anyone for the unimaginable tragedy and loss.
"Each of the 39 people who tragically lost their lives had been promised a life here in our country. But that promise turned to tragedy when they arrived on our shores.
"We made a promise to secure justice for them and their families. We have kept that promise and I am very proud of that.
"But that justice could not have been achieved without the tireless efforts of police officers and the communities here in Thurrock and beyond. Thanks to those efforts, 10 people are now serving a total of more than 100 years for their dreadful crimes. Our work is not finished and indeed our investigation team is preparing for the trials of 2 people next year.
"Today, we as a community have paused to reflect and remember all those who were tragically associated with this sad loss of life. Their loss will never be forgotten. This is a community where the police are the people, and the people are the police; a community that all of us at Essex Police are proud to be a part of."
The wording on the memorial reads as follows.
"In remembrance and testimony to those who tragically lost their lives at the hands of organised immigration crime. Thurrock stands united in its commitment to prevent Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking in all its forms by providing support and protection for victims and prosecution of those who see our fellow human beings as mere commodities for trade and exploitation."