Blog: Cockle picking tragedy

Catherine Sleep | 9 February 2004

You may have heard that 19 cockle pickers were swept to their deaths by tides at Morecambe Bay. Some of them were illegal immigrants from China, reported to be labouring for as little as £1 per day.

I grew up by the sea and have a healthy respect for it. These poor people spoke no English, were clearly unfamiliar with the area and had no understanding of the dangerous tides. They were trapped in the freezing waters, which are said to fill the bay faster than a person can run.

The tragedy has prompted calls for more protection of migrant workers and licensing of cockle pickers. A regulation system has been set up but it is hard to police when people slip down to the beach after dark. Sometimes there are as many as 300 cockle pickers working on the sands at one time, many of whom have no permits. With £6m worth of cockles lying on the beach, the stakes are high and gangs have been operating outside the law.

I hear reports that the police have arrested five people on suspicion of manslaughter.

The exploitation of illegal immigrants is a growing problem in the food industry, in the UK as elsewhere. We’ve commissioned a feature to look at the issue so watch this space.

Arrests in cockle tragedy


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