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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 17:34 GMT
Cockler deaths 'tragic accident'
Shrine at Morecambe Bay
At least 21 cockle pickers died in the incident at Morecambe Bay
The deaths of at least 21 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay were a "tragic accident", a jury has heard.

The defence for alleged gangmaster Lin Liang Ren, 29, of Liverpool, said he was innocent of "gross negligence" and it was "an accident waiting to happen".

John Bromley-Davenport QC told Preston Crown Court there were many reasons for the deaths, which had their origins in "post-Maoist China".

Lin Liang Ren denies manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

He also denies facilitation - helping people breach immigration law - along with his girlfriend, Zhao Xiao Qing, 21, from Liverpool.

This was a disaster waiting to happen
John Bromley-Davenport QC
Mr Bromley-Davenport asked: "Was it manslaughter or was it a tragic accident, an occurrence with many causes?

"Was it manslaughter, or is the Crown's casting of the case in that mould, if not wholly misconceived, just plain wrong?"

He said the deaths were partly due to the "adverse weather" on the night of the tragedy, and the treacherous tides.

"If they had come out at the proper time, they may still have come unstuck.

"An hour could make all the difference, five minutes could make a lot of difference.

Visa worries

"This was a disaster waiting to happen."

Lin Liang Ren initially gave officers a false name, saying he had entered the UK illegally with 700 in cash but had no idea what cockling was and had never even heard people discussing it.

Mr Bromley-Davenport said Lin Liang Ren had lied in his police interview but claimed it was only because he was worried about securing a visa to stay in the UK.

A total of 21 bodies, of 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 trial continues.

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