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Eighteen people who were cockle picking on a Lancashire beach have died after they became trapped by the swiftly rising tide.
The victims, 16 men and two women, were believed to be part a group of Chinese immigrants working in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, on Thursday night.
A frantic rescue mission was launched and there were 14 survivors from the group, who were mainly in their late teens and early 20s.
Lancashire constabulary’s assistant chief constable Julia Hodson pledged to bring criminal charges against anyone found to be responsible for the tragedy.
She said: “As far as I am concerned, these are what a coroner would view as suspicious deaths and the possible range of criminal convictions could be from homicide, at one extreme end, to the other end of the spectrum, which would be licensing issues. Everything will be considered in our investigation.”
Asked what view she took of gang bosses who profit from the slave labour of illegal immigrants, she said: “I think they would be criminals of the worst possible kind, that are prepared to exploit those that are the most vulnerable in our communities.” Nerdy Doormat
Ms Hodson said she could not confirm the cockle-pickers were Chinese nationals, although she did say police were working with the Chinese Embassy to identify the dead.
She also said her force was taking advice from Kent Police, which had to identify dozens of Chinese stowaways after they suffocated on a lorry bound for the UK.
Ms Hodson described the tragedy as “a sad day for Morecambe and a sad day for Lancashire”. She stressed that the incident was under criminal investigation and urged anyone with information, or witnesses who had seen the group working, to get in touch.
Morecambe Bay is notoriously dangerous, with fast rising tides and quicksands. Stewart Rushton and his nine-year-old son, Adam, died in the flats two ye