"We are deeply sorry for the harm caused to the children and the society. We sincerely apologise for that and we beg your forgiveness"

Text message from Chinese dairy firms

"We sincerely apologise for that and we beg your forgiveness."

On Wedneday Tian Wenhua, the chairwoman and general manager of part state-owned Sanlu Group, and three other company executives went on trial at a court in northern China over their role in the scandal.

Tian, who pleaded guilty, could be sentenced to life imprisonment although the verdict may not be reached for several weeks, the Beijing News said on Friday.

Another 17 people involved in producing, selling, buying and adding melamine in milk have gone on trial in the last week.

Tian admitted in court that she had been aware of quality problems in the milk products for months before alerting the authorities, the Xinhua news agency said.

Thousands of children were sicked in the scandal and at least six died [EPA]
She told a three-judge panel at the opening of the trial that she had ordered product testing after learning of consumer complaints about problematic milk in mid-May last year.

The 66-year-old former boss of the dairy firm said she did not report the situation to the government in the northern city of Shijiazhuang until two months later.

Milk products made by Sanlu and several other Chinese firms were later found to have been tainted with melamine, leading to a recall of thousands of milk products from supermarket shelves in China and around the world.

Last month the Chinese government announced that the dairy firms involved had agreed to compensate families of children affected by the scandal, but many families have said the compensation offered is not enough.