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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

New arrival to UK among four victims of Oldham mill fire

Top L-R: Cuong Van Chu, Uoc Van Nguyen. Bottom L-R: Duong Van Nguyen and Nam Thanh Le.
Top L-R: Cuong Van Chu, Uoc Van Nguyen. Bottom L-R: Duong Van Nguyen and Nam Thanh Le. Photograph: Greater Manchester Police

A 21-year-old man who arrived in Britain only eight months ago is believed to be among four Vietnamese nationals who died in a mill fire in Greater Manchester in May.

Greater Manchester police (GMP) have released the identities of the four men for the first time after the remains of three victims were recovered from the building in Oldham.

Officers said Nam Thanh Le, 21, arrived in the UK in January and last contacted his family in Vietnam on 4 May – three days before the large fire destroyed Bismarck House Mill.

He had told his relatives he was living in a “mill” in “Dam” – believed to be Oldham – while looking for work.

The three other men believed to have died in the fire were Cuong Van Chu, 39, Uoc Van Nguyen, 31, and Duong Van Nguyen, 29. Two of the men, Chu and Uoc, last spoke to their families on the day of the fire.

Det Supt Lewis Hughes, GMP’s victim identification lead, said: “Our thoughts remain with Cuong, Uoc, Duong and Nam’s loved ones.

“Specially trained officers have been in direct contact with them and continue to make every effort to ensure they are fully updated and supported in Vietnam, as they would be in the United Kingdom.”

Detectives are investigating how the blaze took hold at the mill. It took firefighters four days to put it out, during which time authorities believed no one was inside.

The mill used to house various companies, including a tile shop and a laser game centre. There were also serviced offices and storage units on site.

Firefighters did not enter the mill at the time because of safety concerns about the structural stability of the building.

It was only on 21 July – 10 weeks after the fire – that police were told people may have been inside the mill, after the family of one of the men contacted a Catholic church in London asking for help.

The first human remains were found two days later. The remains of a third victim were recovered earlier this week.

Police said Cuong Van Chu was regularly speaking to his wife and children via telephone but they had not heard from him since 7 May, the day of the fire. He arrived in the UK in June 2019.

Uoc Van Nguyen was also in regular contact with his wife and last spoke to her on the day the blaze took hold. He had told her that day that he was in a mill.

Duong Van Nguyen last spoke to his family about three months ago, police said, when he told them he was living in “an abandoned house” while looking for work. He arrived in the UK in about August 2021, officers believe.

Detectives are in the early stages of piecing together the men’s lives, including how they arrived in the UK and how long they had been inside the mill.

They are also investigating how the fire started and activities at the mill beforehand. One line of inquiry is understood to be whether an illegal cannabis factory was operating inside the building, however it is not known whether any such activity is connected to the fire or to the victims.

Hughes said: “Though we have reason to suspect that Cuong, Uoc, Duong and Nam may have been in the mill during the fire, we are keeping an open mind with regard to how many people were present and their whereabouts. I, therefore, appeal to them, or anyone with information about their whereabouts before or after the fire, to contact us. I stress that their safety and welfare is our number one priority.”

• The directions in the main picture caption of this article were amended on 5 August 2022 to correctly identify the two men at the bottom.

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