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GLAA remembers Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, 15 years on

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting vulnerable and exploited workers on the 15th anniversary of the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster.

At least 21 Chinese cockle pickers drowned after being trapped by incoming tides off the Lancashire coast on the evening of 5th February 2004, with a further 15 surviving.

Gangmaster Lin Liang Ren was jailed for 14 years in 2006 after being found guilty of manslaughter and helping the cockle pickers break immigration laws. His girlfriend Zhao Xiao Qing and cousin Lin Mu Yong were also jailed.

The impact of the disaster was profound, with calls for more to be done to tackle gangmasters who were putting the lives of their workers at risk.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was subsequently established on 1st April 2005, with a remit to protect workers in agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering, food processing and packaging.

A licensing scheme requiring gangmasters in these sectors to have a GLAA licence was created and continues to this day.

The fight to protect vulnerable and exploited workers was strengthened further when the GLA was reformed as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) in May 2017, with powers to investigate modern slavery and labour exploitation across the wider labour market, and not just in its regulated sectors.

Specialist labour abuse prevention officers were recruited by the organisation, with almost 150 arrests made in the first 18 months of the GLAA.

GLAA head of prevention, Paul Elms, who was a Lancashire Police officer back in 2004, is still in touch with one of the survivors.

He said, “The tragedy will live with me for the rest of my life. On this day of all days, it’s important to reflect on the devastating impact this disaster had, with so many young lives lost.

“Thankfully in the last 15 years a lot of progress has been made with all of us doing our utmost to ensure a disaster like this will never happen again. The GLAA is fully committed to working in partnership with our colleagues in law enforcement, businesses, charities and the wider public to protect people who are at risk of exploitation.

“But we need your help if we are going to prevent serious labour abuse and exploitation. We need you to act and pick up the phone if you suspect someone is being exploited. Call our intelligence team on 0800 4320804 or email”

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