England

Morecambe Bay cockle-picker tragedy: Sisters jailed again

Yan Li and Bo Li
Image caption Bo Li and Yan Li tried to spend the laundered money three weeks after being released from prison

Two sisters who laundered money linked to a human trafficking operation which caused the deaths of 23 cockle pickers have been jailed for a second time.

Bo and Yan Li were jailed in 2009 for a scam linked to the deaths of the cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004.

The pair, who operated from houses in the West Midlands, had hidden £22,000 they had made and tried to spend it when they got out of prison.

They were each jailed for two years at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday.

Police said they were part of a money-laundering gang that made £4m and had assets in the UK, Thailand and Norway.

They used houses and shops in Shirley in Solihull, and Dudley to run their operation, it said.

At a confiscation hearing in 2011, Bo, 46, and Yan, 43, were ordered to pay back about £1m which they had made.

The court heard three weeks after the sisters were released from prison in 2011, they were arrested in Bath after trying to pass off £20 notes that had been withdrawn from circulation.

They were staying at a hotel in Chippenham in Wiltshire and staff found £22,000 hid in a locker during routine checks. The money had been stashed by Yan Li's boyfriend Philip Freeman, 64.

'No remorse'

The court heard Freeman removed the money before police were able to catch up with him, and drove it to a house in Solihull where Bo Li's boyfriend, John Bowkett, 65, lived.

Image caption The Li sisters were arrested after trying to spend £20 notes that had been taken out of circulation

The men put the cash in a plastic container and buried it in the back garden, where it was later discovered by officers.

All four were convicted of money laundering at Birmingham Crown Court on September 20.

Freeman, of Wiggington Road in Tamworth, received a four-month jail term suspended for 12 months.

Bowkett, from Welford Road in Shirley, was given a six-month community work order and issued with a four-month curfew which bans him from leaving his home between 20:00 and 06:00 GMT.

Both Freeman and Bowkett were ordered by the judge to each pay £10,000 costs.

Det Sgt Derek Tinsley said: "[The Li sisters] clearly have no remorse for the way in which they obtained this money and wasted no time in trying to spend it on their release from prison.

"We will probably never know where the money was hidden for the last few years but we are convinced it was kept from the original people-trafficking operation and other related crime."

The 2004 Morecambe Bay disaster saw a group of Chinese cockle pickers drowned by rising tides as they worked gathering shellfish for criminal gangmasters.

Only 21 bodies were recovered following the Morecambe Bay tragedy but police believe 23 people died.

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