March 28, 2006

Chinese gangmaster jailed for 14 yrs in UK

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of a work gang of Chinese
cockle pickers was jailed for 14 years on Tuesday 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
labor laws.

On Tuesday, he was 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 (dollars) worth of cockles, small edible mollusks
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 memories 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."