Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy: Councillor fears another tragedy could happen

Cockle Disaster. Picture Garth Hamer'Chairman of Bolton-le-Sands Parish Council Keith Budden
Cockle Disaster. Picture Garth Hamer'Chairman of Bolton-le-Sands Parish Council Keith Budden

Chairman of Bolton-le-Sands Parish Council and Independent Councillor Keith Budden was at the scene of the disaster on the night it happened and for days afterwards.

s soon as he realised something was happening, he went down to the beach.

Keith said: “I’d been in the village on the Thursday when I heard something was happening in the bay, there were people trapped. I felt as a local councillor I needed to be there to offer help and support to those who were involved in it.

“There was a real feeling of frustration because we didn’t know how many people we were looking for, it could have been two or 20. We tried to keep quiet and watch and listen if the lights from the helicopter picked anyone out.

“Minutes went into hours. The media set up camp for two or three weeks and the beach was closed because it was considered a crime scene.

“It was just horrific. The bay is a very dangerous place for the unwary and ill-prepared but is also a wonderful place for people to come on holiday or do the cross bay walks.

“It almost seemed surreal that this was happening in such a lovely place. We knew the people had perished but it seemed an awful intrusion that we had this knowledge that the families’ loved ones had died but the parents, wives, husbands and families of the people should have known first.

“Two or three times a week I walk down on the shore and there are always little echoes of ten years ago, images as well.”

The beach eventually reopened and cockling started again. Keith went down to the beach and saw a group of guys in a big van that stuck out like a sore thumb. He said: “I said to them ‘what time is the tide today?’ and nobody knew. I asked them the height of the water and they had no idea.

“There were all these people that died out there and these people were going to the same place in the same conditions and had no idea about the tides or anything.

“There needs to be a level of regulation out there in the bay the same way as a factory or a building site.

“There is a recession at the moment and people out there who have felt the pinch over the past few years.

“If the beds were opened and huge numbers of cockles were there, and if people had little equipment and were ill prepared and went out there again, with the right set of circumstances, it could happen again.

“I got absolutely no satisfaction being right ten years ago that this was a disaster waiting to happen. These men and women were someone’s sons or daughters, valued family members, their immigration status or where they were from is secondary.

“It’s a human tragedy.”