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Drowned cockle picker to be buried at home in China

A woman who was swept to sea with her husband in the Morecambe Bay cockle picker tragedy six years ago will be buried alongside her husband in China, a detective said today.

An inquest ruled today that a human skull found on a beach in Silverdale, Lancashire, in July was that of 37-year-old Liu Qin Ying who went missing, presumed dead, on the night of February 5, 2004.

The body of her husband, Xu Yu Hua, was recovered the following day after the alarm was raised in 2004.

Police believe 23 Chinese men and women died but only 21 bodies were recovered after the disaster.

All the victims, who were illegal immigrants, were caught in fast rising tides on Warton Sands, off Hest Bank. At least 26 children lost parents in the tragedy, including Xu Bin, now aged 19, the only son of the dead couple.

Preston deputy coroner Simon Jones was told that the skull was discovered on July 10 during a guide tour of the area.

Detective Superintendent Steve Brunskill, who led the identification process in 2004, said: "The witness, Stephen Clarke, was acting as a guide across Morecambe Bay riding a quad bike when he became aware of what he thought was a set of dentures in the sand.

"On closer examination he found it to be a human skull.

"In his experience, he said it had not been exposed in that location for five years."

Mr Brunskill said the skull was sent to a forensic anthropologist at the University of Central Lancashire who determined it belonged to a female, aged between 25 and 45, and of Far East Asian descent.

A post-mortem examination showed no evidence of any injury to the skull prior to death, he said.

Two of her teeth were then sent to the Forensic Science Service at Wetherby and confirmed in a DNA match with samples that officers obtained from her parents when they visited China six years ago.

Adjourning the inquest, Mr Jones said: "I am entirely satisfied it is the skull of Liu Qin Ying."

The matter will now be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service who will decide whether it is in the public interest to pursue further criminal charges against the ruthless gangmaster who was jailed for 14 years for his part in the tragedy.

Lin Lian Ren, 29, was convicted of 21 counts of manslaughter after a seven-month trial at Preston Crown Court in 2005 when a jury ruled he exploited his employees who he sent out on to the dangerous sands in the dark and cold to scour the area for cockles, which he sold to restaurants.

Following the hearing, Mr Brunskill said: "The family of Liu Qin Ying were very grateful when we informed them of where we were up to with the possibility it was their relative.

"They actually thought we were ringing up to congratulate her son on going to university.

"We have had a very good relationship with the family over the years. I remember them well as being a very dignified family.

"Once we told them the news they were distressed but keen to return her remains to China where she will be buried in a plot next to her husband.

"Now the identification is confirmed, my next step is to speak to the Crown Prosecution Service. As soon as they make their decision we can look at repatriation.

"The family have waited a long time."

The bodies of the 21 victims discovered were returned to China in November 2004.

Just one of the cockle-pickers, Dong Xin Wu, remains unaccounted for.