Irwin Mitchell to represent BSE litigation

Roger Pearson reports on an upcoming High Court action by the families of those who allegedly died from new variant CJD.

Sheffield-based Irwin Mitchell is heading for a test case litigation in which the Government is being sued by relatives of adults and children who they claim died after contracting the human variant of "mad cow disease" after eating contaminated beef.

A steady flow of claims from all parts of the country is now being issued at the High Court in London by parents, husbands and wives of those who have died.

The claims are against the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the Department of Health (DoH) and accuse the Government of both negligence and breach of statutory duty.

It is alleged that if MAFF and the DoH had recognised the problems in time and stopped infected beef entering the food chain it is likely there would have been no deaths from the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease (CJD).

MAFF is accused of negligence for failing to recognise the emergence of transmissible Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and for failing to contain the epidemic. The DoH is accused of negligence for failing to recognise BSE as a potential threat to humans early enough, and failing to pass on to MAFF the full extent of its knowledge about the risk.

This information included details about the length of the incubation period of the disease, the inevitability of death and the fact there is no effective treatment to limit the disease's effects.

The claimants include Dorothy Churchill of Bath, whose son Stephen died in 1995; Clare Callaghan of Belfast, whose husband Maurice died in 1995; Malcolm Tibbert of Glasgow, whose wife Margaret died in 1996; Christopher Pearson of Canterbury, who lost his wife Anna to the disease; Jean Haig of Glenrothes, Fife, is suing over the death of Andrew Haig; John Williams of Caernarfon, Gwynedd, whose daughter Alison died in 1996; Derek Hall, of Chester-le-Street is suing over the death of Peter Hall; Ronald Richardson's of Huyton, Liverpool, whose wife Ann died in 1996.