Jurors visit sands where cocklers died

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The Independent Online

Led by an expert from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, they were taken across the Lancashire sands by hovercraft yesterday to the place where 21 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in treacherous weather on the night of 5 February last year.

The mild autumn weather was a complete contrast to the wet, freezing conditions faced by the cocklers. The jurors made two trips to witness the different stages of the incoming tide.

Reading a script agreed by the prosecution and defence in the trial at Preston Crown Court, Mike Guy, operations manager of Morecambe Lifeboat Station, showed them the area of Hest Bank where the cockle pickers, all illegal immigrants, became trapped in rising tides.

A total of 21 bodies, men and women aged between 18 and 45, were recovered from the water surrounding Warton Sands. A further two bodies have never been found.

The prosecution claims the "negligence" of the cocklers' alleged gangmaster, Lin Liang Ren, who the court heard failed to get his workers off the sands in time, was to blame . The 29-year-old, from Liverpool, denies 21 counts of manslaughter, perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration.

His girlfriend, 20-year-old Zhao Xiao Qing, also from Liverpool, denies perverting the course of justice and facilitation. Lin Liang Ren's cousin, Lin Mu Yong, 31, from Liverpool, denies facilitation, as do David Anthony Eden, 62, from Irby, Merseyside, and his son David Anthony Eden, 34, from Prenton, Merseyside.

During the visit jurors, accompanied by barristers and the trial judge, Mr Justice Henriques, were shown nearby towns and landmarks, along with a rickety signpost warning about "quicksand and fast-rising tides". That signpost was in place on the night of 5 February 2004, while others reading "danger, beware fast-rising tides" have been erected since. Travelling over the Kent and Keer channels - the "deep channels" described by the prosecution, which fill with water and cut people off from the shore - the jurors stepped off the hovercraft on to the cockle beds where the Chinese worked and died. They also visited Priest Skear, the area of rocky sand where the only cockler to be rescued was spotted.

The trial continues.