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Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010
Six years on from Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy
The pathway taken by the cocklers onto the sands
Rescuers operated with torches and floodlights on the beach

It is now six years since 23 Chinese cockle-pickers died in Morecambe Bay

They were caught out by the tide on the evening of 5 February 2004.

The tragedy led to a huge investigation, court cases and changes to the law covering the sort of work they were doing.

The man who led the investigation, former superintendent Mick Gradwell, thinks that signage could still be improved in the area.

The council responsible for the area, Lancaster City Council, says it has taken advice from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and the RNLI, and have put up signs according to their guidelines.

Night of tragedy

A Lancashire coastguard was one of the first people to arrive at the scene of the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster after the alarm had been raised.

Nothing could have prepared Alex Bottomley for what he witnessed that freezing February night in 2004.

Morecambe-based Mr Bottomley, a painter and decorator by trade, recalls the immediate aftermath of the tragedy in which at least 21 cocklers drowned when they were cut off by the rising tide.

Liverpool man Lin Liang Ren has since been convicted on 21 counts of manslaughter.

Archive: Memories of 5 February 2004

My pager and my mobile phone went off at 9.15pm and they asked us to attend some cocklers who were cut off by the tide at Morecambe Lodge.

We arrived at the scene and got an overview of what was going on, but we couldn't find out how many people were on the sandbank because we didn't really know.

When we got down there the wind was howling in our faces and the tide was flooding. You have only got a short span of time to be able to walk along that beach because then it becomes marshland.

It was pitch black for us - we operated with torches and floodlights.

As we proceeded through the night, it was getting more and more like it was going to be a body recovery.

We searched the shores and then stood down until first light in the morning.

At first light, we found it was a body recovery job.

It was deemed necessary for one of the coastguards to go out there and be on the ground, so I volunteered and found all these bodies laid out in lines - it was strange that the tide had left them in a long line.

Alex Bottomley, a coastguard at Morecambe
Mr Bottomley says that recovering bodies was the 'worst job of his life'

I had to identify where the bodies were and point out the locations to the other services.

Meanwhile, the tide started to flood, so I had to recover two bodies with two cocklers who had offered to help us. They had been cockling a few days earlier, but not on the night - they did a sterling job.

We made a decision to bring the bodies back on a tractor. We picked them up and put them on the back - they were the last we could retrieve because the tide was coming and they could have been washed away.

That was one of the worst jobs of my life, recovering the bodies.

We had pulled bodies out of the sea before - one here, one the next year and they are all incidents you don't like going to - but you don't expect to see so many in one spot.

Dangerous

It certainly brings it home to you that these are very dangerous places.

The bodies had no marks on them. They had shed most of their clothes, I believe because they thought that wearing clothes might weigh them down and not having them on would make it easier to swim to shore, but unfortunately they didn't make it.

It was cold, windy and dark - they wouldn't know where they were actually swimming to - there wouldn't be a point that they could actually focus on.

When you are out there doing the job, you don't feel the cold until you stop and when you stop everything starts going round in your mind - could we have done anything better, was there anything we could have put into place to make things easy? There wasn't.

It was just the elements, the time of night and the tide, basically. Everything was against us and against them.

Nothing prepares you for something like that. The memory will never leave me.


Map of bay area
Map of bay area





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