Dover tragedy relatives in £1m claim

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The Independent Online

Chinese relativesof victims of the Dover ferry tragedy, in which 58 people suffocated in the back of a lorry, are to make a £1m claim for compensation in Britain.

British lawyers acting for the relatives, who all live in the Fujian province of south-east China, will lodge the claims next week at the Glasgow headquarters of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

The 195 relatives who are seeking redress include mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children of 57 of the illegal immigrants who died on board a P&O ferry crossing the Channel to Dover from Zeebrugge last year. The final victim has yet to be identified.

Each relative may be entitled to £5,500 for their bereavement, with lone parents able to claim twice that amount. Children may be entitled to extra money for loss of parental care.

The compensation claim coincides with the first anniversary of the deaths,. A memorial service will be held in London on Monday after a vigil outside the Home Office.

A Dutch lorry driver, Perry Wacker, 33, was jailed for 14 years in April after a trial at Maidstone Crown Court was told he closed the air vent in the back of his container lorry to reduce the noise from the immigrants on board. Ying Guo, 30, an organiser for Chinese criminal gangs, was jailed for six years for conspiracy to smuggle illegal immigrants. The people who died are believed to have paid up to £20,000 each to be smuggled to Britain.

Amie Tsang, a Manchester solicitor, said the success of the relatives' claims would depend on whether the authority accepted that the deceased had been victims of a violent act. She said: "Switching off the air supply, we would argue, was an act of violence. Wacker was sentenced to manslaughter and that only adds to our argument."

Ms Tsang agreed the case was highly unusual. "This is such a novel claim. It has never happened before and I hope it will never have to happen again," she said.

The relatives also hoped to bring a compensation claim in the Netherlands, from where the lorry left on its fateful journey.

A British legal team recently spent 10 days in Fujian collecting statements from the bereaved families. Ms Tsang said: "It is not the money we are looking at. It is doing something for the bereaved families."