‘Toxic soup’ children win case

Author: By Jan Colley, Press Association

The 18 young people claimed their birth defects were due to their mothers
being exposed to an “atmospheric soup of toxic materials”.

Corby Borough Council, which was responsible for the reclamation of a former
steelworks, was found liable today at London’s High Court.

But Mr Justice Akenhead said his ruling on liability did not cover the two
youngest claimants.

The Northamptonshire council had denied that it was negligent during the works
at Corby’s former British Steel plant between 1985 and 1999, and that there
was a link between the removal of waste to a quarry north of the site and
deformities affecting hands and feet.

The question of causation will be decided at a later date.

Collins Solicitors, which acted for the children, said that it was the first
time that, following the negligent release of toxic material into the
atmosphere, a court has found that this material can be inhaled and ingested
by pregnant women and is capable of causing serious birth defects to their
children.

After the ruling, their QC, David Wilby, said: “The defendant has
throughout strenuously denied any fault and relied heavily on its expert
witnesses to justify its conduct.

“However, without exception, the judge preferred the evidence of the
expert witnesses called by the claimants.”

The solicitors said that the judge wholly accepted the children’s parents’
account of the conditions in Corby during the works, and described the
parents as “wholly honest”.

Lawyer Des Collins added: “Prior to the trial, the council maintained
that a thorough investigation had led it to the conclusion that there was no
link between the reclamation work and the children’s birth defects.

“It also maintained that had any convincing evidence been shown that the
children had good claims then the council would have wanted to compensate
them appropriately without going to trial.

“Today that link has been established and the evidence provided. The
children now call upon the council to fulfil their pre-trial promises
without delay.”

Corby Borough Council said it was disappointed with the result but would now
consider its position carefully.

Chief executive Chris Mallender said: “We are obviously very disappointed
and very surprised at the outcome of this trial.

“Our position has always been that there was no link between the
reclamation work that was carried out in Corby in past decades and these
children’s birth defects. That is still our position.”

He said the council recognised mistakes were made and accepted some of the
criticism but said they had still not seen evidence to confirm a causal link
between the work and the defects.

He added: “However, now is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction.

“In the next few days we will be reading the lengthy judgment very
carefully and talking to our legal advisers before we decide what our next
steps should be.”

He said that decision would be taken by the full council meeting in open
session.

In a statement issued after today’s judgment, the council’s legal
representatives Berrymans Lace Mawer said they were surprised by the
findings of the court.

The statement said they were asked to advise on an appeal but had over 400
pages of judgment to review and also their client, Corby Borough Council,
had to consider its position. The firm said it would be a few weeks before
it has instructions.

The statement added: “There are however some clear points to note at this
stage.

“The case involves reclamation work going back to the 1980s. The judge
concluded that this contamination affected pregnant women. A child, so
affected, has 21 years from birth to make a claim and thus any work since
the late 1980s which has not met the standard of care indicated in this
judgment could be challenged in this way.

“For both local authorities and developers alike this is a significant
concern because the standard of care has been drawn very highly, and could
cause a rethink of the way that reclamation is carried out in the UK even
though the facts of the case are historic.”

Eight families, who still live in the Corby/Kettering area, were present for
today’s ruling.

They were: Mandy Wright and son Curtis, 13; Johanne Harrison and daughter
India, nine; Louise Carley and daughter Ashleigh Custance, 10; Lisa
Atkinson, mother of 20-year-old Simone, was present, but her daughter was
not; Audrey Barfield and son Dylan South, 14; Anita Nathwani and daughter
Kerri, 12; Sarah Pearson and son Lewis, 15; and Nichola Scott with
14-year-old son Jordan.

The families are expected to give their reaction to the ruling at a press
conference at around noon.

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