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True-crime documentary Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers is set for its US and Canada premiere. Its story is horrific, brought home by the personal stories revealed in it.

Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers
Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers — Image courtesy of Topic

In the realm of true-crime documentaries, the story of Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers is particularly tragic, because the deaths of nearly 40 people were wholly preventable.

On October 23, 2019, at 1:51 am, a lorry driver was arrested on suspicion of murder by Essex Police. Roughly a half-hour earlier, he had called 999 to report that the people in the back of the lorry he’d just picked up from Purfleet Port, 25 by his guesstimate, weren’t breathing. There were 39 individuals, actually; all were Asian immigrants, and all were dead.

So begins the police investigation into one of the UK’s most shocking crimes, and this documentary about it.

“I’ve been a police officer for over thirty years. I’ve led a large number of murder investigations, but nothing touched this.” — DCI Daniel Stoten, Essex Police

The discovery of the 39 victims — men, women, and teenagers from Vietnam — sparked one of Britain’s largest murder investigations, which was the largest investigation in the history of the Essex Police force. Before they realized how large the case would become, and how far beyond the UK’s borders it would encompass, the police began to suspect the lorry driver of being part of an organized crime ring, owing to certain actions he took, things he said, and items in his possession. They just had to prove it.

The work of painstakingly piecing together a complex web of evidence was daunting — from identifying the victims and combing through CCTV footage for clues, to finding the lorry driver’s second phone (why did he keep the battery?) and locating his accomplices. But with the help of officers from across the country, including the Hertfordshire Police, plus a couple of big breaks in the case, including an assist from a witness known only as “Witness X,” Essex Police were able to crack open a multi-million-pound international human trafficking and smuggling ring.

Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers is a straight-up chronicle about the police investigation into a horrific crime, without the sensationalism that many programs in the true-crime arena tend to rely on. Hearing directly from the officers involved, and seeing how they connected the clues and built their case is really intriguing stuff. But what brings the whole thing home are the personal stories — told by victims’ family members, who recount why their loved ones left them and their home country, and what they were dealing with, beyond their own grief, in the aftermath of the tragic deaths that need not have happened at all. It’s heartbreaking.

With commentary provided by actress Siobhan Finneran, Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers premieres in the US and Canada tomorrow, Thursday, October 20, exclusively on Topic.


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Hunting the Essex Lorry Killers: Personal Stories Bring True-Crime Documentary to Life