Cockler tragedy woman to be buried next to husband

Cockle picker in Morecambe Bay The 23 men and women were swept out to sea as they harvested cockles in the bay

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A woman who drowned in the Morecambe Bay cockle-picking tragedy could soon be buried alongside her husband in China, a senior detective has said.

DNA tests confirmed that a skull found near Silverdale Point in July belonged to missing cockler Liu Qin Ying.

The 37-year-old was one of 23 people who drowned in the 2004 tragedy. An inquest into her death was opened and adjourned in Preston earlier.

Lancashire Police said DNA samples matched her family in China.

The victim's husband, 37-year-old Yu Hua Xu, also perished that night, leaving their son, Zhou, then aged 13, orphaned in China.

The deaths exposed an underground world of cheap labour in which vulnerable migrants were exploited by criminal gangs and human traffickers.

Preston deputy coroner Simon Jones was told that the skull was discovered on 10 July during a guided tour of the sands.

A post-mortem examination showed no evidence of any injury to the skull before death, the hearing was told.

Two of Ms Liu's teeth matched DNA samples that officers obtained from her parents when they visited China in 2004.

Adjourning the inquest, Mr Jones said: "I am entirely satisfied it is the skull of Liu Qin Ying."

Fisherman Stephen Clarke told the BBC he immediately knew the skull belonged to a cockler

Speaking after the hearing, Det Supt Steve Brunskill said: "We have had a very good relationship with the family over the years. I remember them well as being a very dignified family.

"Once we told them the news they were distressed but keen to return her remains to China where she will be buried in a plot next to her husband.

"Now the identification is confirmed, my next step is to speak to the Crown Prosecution Service. As soon as they make their decision we can look at repatriation.

"The family have waited a long time."

CPS decision

The detective said he had been struck by the "dignity" of the family when he first met them in the Fujian Province of China in 2004, and said he hoped her remains could be returned in the "very near future".

All 23 Chinese men and women were swept out to sea as they harvested cockles against a rising tide in Morecambe Bay. The remains of one cockler have never been found.

The matter will now be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision on whether to pursue further criminal charges against the gangmaster who sent them out on the sands.

A CPS spokeswoman said: "Lancashire Police have notified us about their investigation and once we have received further information from them we will decide if a prosecution is required."

Lin Liang Ren is serving a 14-year prison sentence for the manslaughter of the 21 cockle-pickers whose bodies were found.

The disaster was one of the biggest operations Lancashire police have handled in a decade.

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