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UK indicts three in shell-fish drownings
By Hu Meidong & Qin Jize (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-03 01:07

Three Chinese have been charged with manslaughter and other offences in connection with the deaths of at least 21 Chinese shell-fish pickers who drowned in a northwestern English bay in February, British police said on Thursday.

The trio, two men and a woman, had been interviewed by police right after the deaths and were re-arrested on Wednesday.

In all, seven people were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in February and were then released on bail.

Local police have been investigating whether the dead were illegal immigrants used as cheap labour by "gang master snakeheads" who organize groups of itinerant workers for poorly paid and hazardous jobs such as shellfish-collecting, or cockle-picking as it is known locally.

Lin Liangren, 27, has been charged with manslaughter, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and "conspiracy to commit facilitation," an offence relating to the organization of illegal immigrants.

Zhao Qingxiao, 19, faces charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to commit facilitation, while Lin Muyong, 29, is charged with conspiracy to commit facilitation.

British police informed the families of the victims in East China's Fujian Province by telephone right after the decision to prosecute the three was made.

Yu Lihong, the 27-year-old wife of Guo Binglong, who called home with a borrowed cell phone shortly before death said that the snake heads "deserve severe and fair punishment."

She said she wanted very much to go to the United Kingdom to see her husband for the last time.

The bodies of the 21 victims are still in the United Kingdom for evidence of the cause of death, according to British police, and it will take another month or two before they will be sent back home.

Another concern is financial compensation. Most victims, if not all, borrowed large amounts of money to pay for their trips to the United Kingdom and now their families live a miserable life.

"The compensation is not in place yet," said Lin Ruiqin, sister-in-law of the victim Guo Nianzhu, a father of three.

A total of 23 migrants, two whose bodies are yet to be found, are believed to have perished in the famously treacherous shallows of Morecambe Bay on the northwest coast of England on February 5 when they were caught by fast-rising tides as they searched for cockles, a shellfish delicacy.

Sixteen people survived the tragedy, among them two Europeans and 14 Chinese.

"This does not signal the end of the investigation as a number of other people remain on police bail," said Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell from Lancashire Police, who is leading the inquiry.

More charges could follow, he added.

The local police have been trying hard to find the missing two.

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