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Human skull find is cockle picking victim

John Freeman
Police have confirmed that a human skull found in Silverdale is that of a Chinese woman Liu Qin Ying who was believed to have lost her life along with her husband  in the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockle picking tragedy.

The skull was found on the shoreline in Silverdale on 10th July this year and was taken to Royal Preston Hospital for examination.

Tests have indicated that it is the skull of 37-year-old Liu Qin Ying, who was reported as being amongst the missing cockle pickers on the evening of 4th February 2004 (see initial 2004 VL news story).  An inquest was opened on Wednesday, where the Coroner heard evidence of identification and was entirely satisfied that the skull was that of Liu Qin Ying.

The inquest has now been adjourned.

In April 2004 Lancashire Constabulary visited China and interviewed Liu’s mother and father. DNA samples were taken from them at the same time.  On returning to the UK, these samples were sent to the Forensic Science Service at Wetherby, where DNA profiles were obtained.

Comparisons of these profiles to that obtained from the human skull show that there is extremely strong evidence to suggest that this is Liu Qin Ying.

Detective Superintendent Steve Brunskill, who led the identification process for the Chinese cockle pickers in 2004, said: “My first responsibility is clearly to the family of Liu Qin Ying and, as such, I have contacted her family and informed them of this find.

"Clearly there are mixed feelings in relation to this; on the one hand, it now confirms that Liu was fishing on the night and lost her life alongside her husband, Xu Yu Hua [pictured left], whose body was recovered in the early hours of 6th February 2004. 

"On the other, it is further sad news for the family and those of us involved in the investigation in 2004."

"When I met the family, I was struck by their dignity in the face of losing both their daughter and son-in-law," he added. "The bodies of 21 victims of this tragedy were returned to China in November 2004 and I now hope that the remains of Liu Qin Ying can also be returned in the very near future.”

23 people died in the Cockling tragedy in 2004, caught in fast rising tides on Warton Sands at night on 5th February 2004. At least 26 children lost parents in the tragedy.

Gangmaster Lin Lian Ren, who sent his employees out on to the dangerous sands in the dark and cold to scour the area for cockles, which he then sold to restaurants, was jailed for 14 years for his part in the tragedy.

Ren "cynically and callously" exploited fellow Chinese nationals, recruiting desperate illegals for the back-breaking work in appalling weather. Despite making thousands of pounds from their work, he waited 50 minutes before calling rescue services when the disaster happened - and then fled the scene.

He was convicted of 21 counts of manslaughter after a seven-month trial at Preston Crown Court in 2005.

Within months of the tragedy, BBC News reported Chinese cockle-pickers were back working in Morecambe Bay. English employers  gave assurances that all had legal paperwork. However locals in the Barrow area expressed serious concern that people were still going out to work after dark in a notoriously dangerous area. 

The Chinese Cockle Pickers 100-Day Memorial  (virtual-lancaster news feature)

Donald Reed's Poem 'To the Eaters of Cockles'

Ghosts: The Morecambe Victims Fund - pictures of the victims and information about them (this fund has now closed)