A Chinese cockle picker who survived being trapped by the tide in Morecambe Bay on the night when at least 21 people perished lost friends because they swam in another direction, a court has heard.

Lin Hua was smuggled into England in late 2003 and three weeks later was asked to work as a cockle picker by his friend Cao Chao Kun, Preston Crown Court was told.

He told the court he shared a house in Priory Road, Liverpool, with 30 other Chinese people and slept in a room with seven others.

On the night of the tragedy on February 5, 2004, 30 cockle pickers set off for Morecambe at 4pm.

Lin Hua was working with ten other people when the tide started to come in and water surrounded them. The group split four in one direction and six in another and he went with his friend Cao Chao Kun and a man called A Long.

When they realised they were in serious trouble, he said that A Long was calling their boss Lin Ren on his mobile. "He was asking for help and asking him to call the police," said Lin Hua.

He said that instinct told him they were headed in the wrong direction so he decided to join the other six - and the group he was with swam for the shore and made it safely.

But he said: "The other three are dead."

Lin Hua, who was paid £5 per 25kg bag of cockles, was able to swim but said that no-one had ever asked him if he could. He said that nobody told him what to do if there was a problem and no-one explained the tides.

He said the boss' was Lin Liang Ren, but said that a man called Lin Li Shui provided the clothing and equipment, counted the cockles each person collected and told them when to go on to the beach and when to finish.

John Bromley-Davenport QC, defending Lin Liang Ren, said it was a tragic accident that nobody wanted to happen and no-one planned but it happened because of a mistake someone made.

He claimed it was Lin Li Shui who made the mistake about the tides and added: "It cost him his life and that of 22 other people."

Lin Hua agreed but added: "But he (Lin Liang Ren) did not tell us when the tides rise."

Lin Liang Ren, 29, from Liverpool, denies 21 counts of manslaughter. He also denies perverting the course of justice and facilitation.

His 20-year-old girlfriend, Zhao Xiao Qing, denies perverting the course of justice and facilitation. And Ren's cousin Lin Mu Yong, 31, also from Liverpool, is charged with facilitation.

Father and Son David Eden, 61, and David Eden, known as Tony, 33, both from Merseyside, the owners of Liverpool Bay Fishing company, are also charged with facilitation.

The trial continues...