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Chinese cockle gangmaster jailed for 14 yrs in UK

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Mar 28 (Reuters) The head of a work gang of Chinese cockle pickers was jailed for 14 years today after being convicted of the manslaughter of 21 people who drowned on a wild winter night off northern England in February 2004.

A court in Preston near Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, where the cocklers drowned, convicted gangmaster Lin Liang Ren last week after a trial lasting nearly six months.

The case highlighted the plight of immigrant -- and often illegal -- workers unable to enjoy the protection of national labour laws.

He was today sentenced to 14 years in jail for manslaughter, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and facilitating illegal entry into the country.

The court also jailed Lin's girlfriend Zhao Xiao Qing to two years and nine months for perverting the course of justice and immigration offences. His cousin Lin Mu Yong was jailed for four years and nine months.

The Chinese men and women, smuggled into England to live effectively as slaves, drowned due to the ''goldrush fever'' for cockles, lead prosecutor Tim Holroyde told the court when the trial opened.

The sands of Morecambe Bay are said to hold millions of pounds worth of cockles, a small edible molluscs especially popular in Spain.

Morecambe Bay is known for its rip tides and quicksands. Even local fishermen familiar with its secrets have had horses and tractors sucked into the sands.

The cocklers, many of whom could not swim, were far out in the bay at low tide and had no chance of surviving as the sea rushed in on a wet and windy night.

Li Hua, the only cockler to be rescued alive, said: ''In less than a couple of minutes the water level came to such a high level we just could not move, literally.'' ''At that time a lot of memor ies came back to me, I remembered how hard the journey was for us to get into the country and I thought to myself perhaps this is where I am going to die.'' Sobbing as he recalled his nightmare, he said; ''I thought of my wife and my children and it brought tears to my eyes.'' Asked what he thought of Lin Liang Ren, he said ''I hate him.

And I think he is a very cruel person. For his own profit he caused so many people to lose their lives.'' Reuters DKS RS1815

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