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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Cockler survivor hates gangmaster
Li Hua
Li Hua was rescued from the water on 5 February
A survivor of the cockling disaster has spoken of his hate for the gangmaster responsible for the deaths of his friends at Morecambe Bay.

Li Hua, the only cockler to be rescued alive from rising tides on 5 February, described Lin Liang Ren as a "mean boss" who exploited his countrymen.

He said the cocklers died on 5 February because the gangmaster had failed to bring them to the shore in time.

"For his own profit he caused so many people to lose their lives," he said.

Lin Liang Ren was convicted of 21 counts of manslaughter, facilitating illegal immigration and perverting the course of justice.

On Tuesday, he was jailed for a total of 14 years at Preston Crown Court.

Cockler rescue
I thought if I stay here for a couple of minutes longer I would just die there

Speaking through an interpreter, Li Hua, who paid a Snakehead gang the equivalent of 14,000 to come to England, said the cocklers had suffered real "hardships" under their boss.

He said: "We worked in conditions of hell, we had rotten food, rotten accommodation and worked in very cold conditions and dark, risking our lives trying to make a living in this country."

"The conditions he (Lin Liang Ren) provided were not very good, the food and the living standards.

"I would say he's a very mean boss to all his workers."

The married father-of-one was rescued by a lifeboat crew after desperately trying to save his best friend, Wen Ge, on the night of 5 February.

During the trial the jury was shown footage of Li Hua standing stranded on a sandbank, waving his arms as the tide swirls around him.

His friend , who he called Brother Wen, was one of the 21 people who drowned in the tragedy.

Determined testimony

Li Hua described the night as "unforgettable".

He said: "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.

"I thought of my wife and my children and it brought tears to my eyes.

"I thought if I stay here for a couple of minutes longer I would just die there."

Li Hua managed to clamber on to a raised patch of sand called Priest Skear and was rescued when a helicopter appeared.

"I'm still thinking to myself sometimes why Lin Liang Ren did not inform us of the time of the tides and why we did not receive any warnings," he added.

Despite fears of a backlash from the gangmaster's family, he said he felt compelled to give evidence at the trial.

He said: "Why should Lin Liang Ren, for his own benefit or profit, cause such a big tragedy?"

Li Hua, who has a 12-year-old son, said he now wants his family back in China to come to England.

He said: "That is what I'm dreaming of. I miss them very badly, every day I think of them."

Li Hua has temporary leave to remain in the UK, which will be reviewed by the Home Office in May and a decision made on whether he can stay permanently.

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