Cockle horror witness hid his identity

Cockler disaster. Picture Garth Hamer'Cocklers glove and bagged cockles on Monday.
Cockler disaster. Picture Garth Hamer'Cocklers glove and bagged cockles on Monday.

A survivor of the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster has told how he rebuilt his life on the witness protection programme.

Li Hua had to change his identity after giving evidence against his gangmaster boss who was accused of manslaughter over the drowning of 21 Chinese cockle pickers in the rising tides of Morecambe Bay.

The news came as police launched a new national protection scheme, the UK Protected Persons Service, for people who are in danger from criminals.

Li Hua said: “I was very nervous and very frightened about giving evidence, but I thought about how the police rescued us.

“Then I thought that in the background the police had been reassuring us, they had been protecting us all this time.”

Li Hua also wanted justice for the menand women whose lives had been callously wasted by his boss Lin Liang Ren.

“I thought, someone is leading us to pick cockles, that someone should let us know more about the tide times. Obviously he didn’t. He’s so irresponsible. I totally detest him.”

Li Hua says it was sheer luck that he managed to swim to a sandbank and was rescued by helicopter.

Having paid a Snakehead gang the equivalent of £14,000 to come to England, Li Hua feared repercussions and was put on the witness protection programme with his wife and children. Nine years after the tragedy he now has a new life and runs his own business.

The police have now launched the UK Protected Persons Service which will be run by a national team of specialists.

David Morris MP said: “I welcome the new UK protected person service, for too long vulnerable witnesses have not been afforded enough protection and now it is right that the Ministry of Justice is giving them extra protection.”

A timeline of the 2004 cockling disaster

n February 5, 2004. At least 21 Chinese cockle pickers were drowned by the incoming tide at Warton Sands, near Hest Bank. A further two cocklers were believed to have been with those drowned, with the remains of one being found in 2010.

n Gangmaster Lin Liang Ren was convicted of 21 counts of manslaughter, facilitating illegal immigration and perverting the course of justice and jailed for 14 years.

n The Gangmaster Licensing Authority was set up in April 2005.