Ex-detective who worked on Morecambe cockling disaster says 39 found dead in lorry could have been trafficked by Chinese ‘Snakeheads’

The scene of the Morecambe cockling disaster in 2004.
The scene of the Morecambe cockling disaster in 2004.

The 39 people who were found dead in a lorry in Essex this week could have been trafficked by Chinese ‘Snakehead’ gangs, a former police detective who worked on the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy investigation has said.

Ex-detective superintendent Mick Gradwell worked on the inquiry into the Morecambe disaster in 2004 in which 23 Chinese illegal immigrants drowned.

Mick Gradwell

Mick Gradwell

He told BBC Breakfast: “These are criminal travel agents really – you go to a Snakehead to say you want to be trafficked to an economic opportunity and usually you’ll borrow quite a significant amount of money.

“It is a huge money-making organisation that has a network throughout the world, and I would imagine they will be hitting certain tiers in this investigation, but the Mr Bigs who make the big money, I would say, are virtually untouchable unless there is a massive international operation to take these people out.”

Thirty-nine migrants, who police say are believed to be Chinese, were found dead inside the back of a refrigerated lorry in Essex on Wednesday. The truck was later confirmed to have travelled via Belgium.

Mr Gradwell said relatives of the victims were likely to have been in contact with those being smuggled, who may have been carrying phones which could be used by police to help identify them.

The scene of the Morecambe cockling disaster in 2004.

The scene of the Morecambe cockling disaster in 2004.

And speaking about the investigation into the Morecambe disaster, Mr Gradwell said: “We found the survivors hadn’t been told properly what this country was like; they merely had an idea it was like The Darling Buds Of May, you know, you can pick up gold off the streets.

“There is this false information to people in these provinces like Fujian that here the streets are paved with gold and you can make easy money.”

Lisa Yam, a lawyer specialising in Chinese immigration, also told the programme: “We find it is quite difficult to believe why we still have so many Chinese that choose to come into the country (like this).

“I think, as the Chinese community and also we know, our relatives, we have friends in China, and I think every single one should bring the message to them and tell them that if they want to come to the UK they should choose the proper way.”

Police raided two houses in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, following the horrific lorry discovery, while officers in Essex continue to question the driver of the lorry, Mo Robinson, 25.