Detective Inspector Michelle Stoten has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to home affairs with a commendation from outgoing Home Secretary Priti Patel.
She received her award at Lancaster House in London at a ceremony to mark the exceptional work of individuals in policing, the fire service, community organisations and the civil service.
It's the second major honour Michelle has collected in the past year after being presented with the Queen’s Policing Medal by Prince Charles in October.
Michelle leads the family liaison team for Operation Melrose, the investigation into the deaths of 39 Vietnamese migrants found in a lorry in Grays in 2019.
She worked with the Vietnamese government and law enforcement and enlisted the help of translators and experienced family liaison officers (FLOs) to gain the trust of the grieving families.
Michelle oversaw a visit to Vietnam in February 2020 where our FLOs met the victims' families face-to-face for the first time.
Her dedication and compassion ensured each victim and their family were treated with dignity and respect. Currently Michelle and her team are working to repatriate victims’ belongings to their families.
Four men were jailed for a total of 78 years and four months for offences ranging from manslaughter to people smuggling and conspiring to bring people into the country unlawfully.
In August, Marius Mihai Draghici, 48, was detained by Romanian police in the city of Bucharest following the execution of a European Arrest Warrant in connection with the case.
Reflecting on her recognition, Michelle said: “I was very surprised but humbled as not many people have been singled out for their work on Melrose.
“Melrose will always be close to hearts of everyone who worked on it. It has been like no other investigation in terms of the scale, complexity, and the emotional impact.
“I am indebted to the dedicated team of family liaison officers and family liaison coordinators - it was a huge team effort.
“I feel honoured to have worked on the investigation and lead the areas I have to do the best we could for the families in such a terrible set of circumstances.”
Speaking the event, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “It is impossible for me adequately to express my gratitude to all those who have made truly outstanding contributions in keeping our communities safe or making our country a better place.
“It is only right to recognise the exceptional efforts and courage of these people. This commendation says to the world that what they do is important, vital and absolutely valued.”
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