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Man Convicted in Shellfish Pickers’ Deaths

March 24, 2006 GMT

PRESTON, England (AP) _ A jury convicted a Chinese man on 21 counts of manslaughter Friday for the deaths of Chinese cockle pickers caught in a swiftly rising tide in northwestern England two years ago.

Lin Liang Ren, 29, was found guilty in the deaths of the shellfish pickers at Warton Sands in Morecambe Bay on Feb. 5, 2004. He had denied being in charge of the operation.

Police believe 23 people died in the disaster, but two bodies were never found. All of the dead were illegal immigrants.

Lin’s girlfriend, Zhao Xiao Qing, 21, and cousin Lin Mu Yong, 31, were also convicted of facilitating the deaths. All three were residents of Liverpool, northwest England.

Lin Liang Ren and Zhao were also found guilty of three charges of perverting the course of justice.

Sentencing was set for Tuesday.

David Anthony Eden and his son, David Anthony Eden Jr., were cleared of breaching immigration law. They allegedly bought cockles supplied by Lin and his crew.

The seven-month trial included testimony from than 150 witnesses.

Jurors heard a recording of a telephone call apparently made by one of the pickers to a police emergency number. The caller, who was never identified, repeatedly shouted ``sinking water,″ and sounds of other people in distress could be heard.

Jurors heard that one of the doomed pickers, Guo Bin Long, 28, used his mobile phone to call his wife in China. ``I am in great danger. I am up to my chest in water. Maybe I am going to die,″ he said. ``It’s a tiny mistake by my boss. He mistook the time. He should have called us back an hour ago.″

Prosecutors said criminal negligence led to the deaths of the workers, who were left on the beach and became trapped by the tide.

Lin had said he was not responsible for the safety of the shellfish collectors.

Police said Lin grew up in Fuqing City, the hometown of 15 of the dead, in China’s Fujian province. He qualified as an accountant and became head of finance for a plastics company, but decided to come to Britain in 2000.

Police Superintendent Mick Gradwell, who led the investigation, praised the Chinese witnesses who had come forward to testify.

``We are very satisfied with the results from the guilty verdict. This has been a very long and complicated investigation,″ Gradwell said.

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Michael Guy, manager of lifeboat operations at Morecambe Bay, said there were no guarantees that similar tragedies could be avoided.

``Despite the huge publicity surrounding both the incident and the trial, people are still risking their lives by venturing out into Morecambe Bay without checking tide times and weather conditions or seeking advice about where it is safe to go,″ Guy said.

Morecambe’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution crew has dealt with about 50 incidents related to cockle-picking since the tragedy.