UK & World News
Key Morecambe Bay Witness Reveals New Life
A key witness in the 2004 Morecambe Bay tragedy has told Sky News how he has rebuilt his life on the witness protection programme.
It comes as police launch a new national protection scheme, the UK Protected Persons Service, for people who are in danger from criminals.
Li Hua had to change his identity after giving evidence against his gangmaster boss who was accused of manslaughter over the drowning of 21 Chinese cockle pickers in the rising tides of Morecambe Bay.
In a secret location, Li Hua told Sky News: "I was very nervous and very frightened about giving evidence, but I thought about how the police rescued us. Then I thought that in the background the police had been reassuring us, they had been protecting us all this time."
Li Hua also wanted justice for the men whose lives had been callously wasted by his boss Lin Liang Ren.
"I thought, someone is leading us to pick cockles, that someone should let us know more about the tide times. Obviously he didn't. He's so irresponsible. He couldn't care less even about people of his own nationality. I totally detest him."
Li Hua says it was sheer luck that he managed to swim to a sandbank and was rescued by helicopter.
"I was frightened to death. All I thought was about my family in China and I had spent so much money to get here, what would happen now?
"I was desperate and feeling hopeless. I thought that's it, I'm going to die tonight ... Then I saw the light from the helicopter."
Gangmaster Lin Liang Ren was convicted of 21 counts of manslaughter, facilitating illegal immigration and perverting the course of justice.
Having paid a Snakehead gang the equivalent of £14,000 to come to England, Li Hua feared repercussions and was put on the witness protection programme with his wife and children.
Nine years after the tragedy he now has a new life and runs his own business.
He said: "Life is a bit complicated because since we were under the protection we settled down. There were certain things we could say to friends and some things we just don't speak of. It became automatic.
"But most of the time what occupied my mind was to go on living, because the British Government and the police give us this life. So, I think I was more concentrating on work hard, pay tax, make safe and don't make trouble."
The police are launching the UK Protected Persons Service next week, which will be run by a national team of specialists, as opposed to local forces.
Police say lessons have been learned from the murder of Joan and John Stirland in August 2004, which was in retaliation for a shooting by Mrs Stirland's son.
The couple were not put on the protection scheme and information wasn't properly shared between forces when they moved home.
Detective Chief Constable Andy Cooke, heading up the new national-coordinated programme, told Sky News: "This is the first time this is going to be done through one approach. Previously, unfortunately, there's been a bit of a postcode lottery as to how you were treated and the training of those people looking after you.
"In some parts of the country there was a highly specialised approach to protecting witnesses and in other parts it wasn't so great. This gives us the ability and manpower to provide the protection to people who need it at the most difficult time of their lives."
Witness protection is a tough life and some refuse to do it.
It is estimated a quarter of prosecutions collapse due to reluctant witnesses, but for Li Hua, who thought he would die in the waters of Morecambe Bay, the family he thought of in that moment is now with him in his new life.
Victims' Minister Helen Grant said: "People who put their lives at risk to bring dangerous criminals to justice are the unsung heroes of society, they deserve our thanks and protection.
"That's why the UK Protected Persons Service is so important; it will give brave individuals the expert support they deserve no matter where they are in the country."