This was one of the questions asked at a meeting held in London on 7 July 2004, to discuss the Morecambe Bay tragedy in which 21 Chinese cockle-pickers drowned after being caught in bad weather and high tides.
The meeting, which had been organised by Min Quan, the Chinese Monitoring Project, heard from Lin Guo, one of the survivors of the tragedy. He was still visibly traumatised by the incident and spoke, through an interpreter, of his fears for the future, with no means to support himself or his family back in China. He told those assembled how the survivors of the tragedy – nine who were able to swim ashore and three others who assisted in the rescue effort – had all been arrested and questioned by the police for a month about their involvement in the tragedy. They were moved from police stations across the North-West and then later released on bail. Then, last week, three of the men, all Chinese, had charges brought against them. 27-year-old Lin Liang Ren was charged with manslaughter, conspiracy to commit facilitation and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. 19-year-old Zhao Qing Xiao and 29-year-old Lin Mu Yong were both charged with conspiracy to commit facilitation. And Zhao Qing Xiao was also charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Gina Tan, a Chinese-born Morecambe Bay resident, who personally knew all of the victims, told the meeting that she did not know why she too was not facing charges as she had also assisted those coming to the area ‘in any way I could’. She told the meeting that the men facing charges were ‘not the guilty ones’, and how the survivors had been ‘treated worse than animals on that night’.
There were also comparisons made with the tragedy of the 58 Chinese people who suffocated to death in a lorry in Dover in June 2000. The meeting was told of the fight for justice by the families of those who died, how after four years of legal wranglings, the families had been denied compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel because the victims were ‘voluntarily engaged in an unlawful act’. In many cases, those that died had paid people-traffickers huge sums of money to travel to the UK and were often the sole bread-winners for their families.
Imran Khan, a civil rights lawyer, spoke of the need for a full public inquiry into why the Morecambe Bay tragedy was allowed to happen and he accused the government of being ‘guilty of institutional practices which led to the deaths of the Dover 58’.