Cockle tragedy find in Bay

Stephen Clarke and the rakes that have been exposed at Priest Skear in the bay.
Stephen Clarke and the rakes that have been exposed at Priest Skear in the bay.

ALMOST nine years to the day of the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster a chilling reminder of the tragedy has emerged from the sands.

A fisherman has discovered what he believes to be cockling rakes used by the Chinese cocklers that through a freak of nature and the changing tides of Morecambe Bay have only now been revealed.

Stephen Clarke, from Bare, who regularly fishes the bay, was walking near Priest Skear when he made the discovery near an outcrop of rocks.

In recent weeks thousands of tonnes of sand have shifted from that area with the stormy weather and the tides uncovering the rakes.

Stephen said: “It is a bit morbid. I was going for a wander and saw a cluster of rakes. Most of the British cocklers used jumbo boards and a rake and at the time the Chinese cocklers didn’t necessarily use the board. They would purely rake the cockles from the sands.

“The Chinese are of smaller stature than the British and these rakes are only short. I am 99% certain that the little rakes date from the time of the cockling disaster.”

In July 2010, Stephen found what later turned out to be the skull of one of the Chinese cocklers.

This skull belonged to the 22nd victim of the cockling tragedy in 2004, which claimed 23 lives. He said: “I was on the quad bike and looked down in the sand and I thought someone had dropped a set of false teeth.

“It was a young, foreign person, and it was a very tiny skull with absolutely pristine white teeth.

“It turned out to be the wife of one of the victims and she hadn’t been found.

“At the time, their son was 11-years-old and he lost his father and mother. Money collected meant their son was able to go to university.”

After the disaster, fishermen and cross bay walk guides found a lot of items of Chinese clothing and equipment which washed up for months.

Stephen, 61, said: “There is still one of them out there somewhere who has never been found. No-one has ever touched the stuff because it was a dead person’s material.

“The sands of Morecambe Bay are ever changing and due to forces of nature all the rakes have come out.

“I’ve found a few weird things in the bay over the years, including a fin whale and dolphins.”

Tragically, Stephen also found the body of a young boy who had drowned near Silverdale.

He said of the bay: “There is no logic behind it and no particular cycle about it.”

Cedric Robinson, Queen’s Guide to the Sands, said: “I have worked in that area and it changes quite frequently. Ten metre tides always take sand away, sometimes tonnes of sand in one tide.

“It is nothing fresh for things to appear like that, this is what can happen. This is the power of the tide in Morecambe Bay, it’s never twice the same.”

Sam Moi Chan, chairman speaking on behalf of the Hua Xian Chinese Society, said: “Whether or not the items belonged to the Chinese cockle pickers, the find itself will lead to people reflecting on what happened in 2004.

“It will reopen discussion on changes to legislation and societal attitudes since the events.”