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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 14:32 GMT
'Hope' for Camelford victims
Camelford waterworks in 1990
Water at the treatment plant was seriously polluted
People affected by the UK's worst water poisoning incident are being asked to give evidence to a new body set up to investigate the long-term health effects.

Supplies to 20,000 customers were affected in 1988 when 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate was dumped into the wrong tank at a treatment works near Camelford in north Cornwall.

The Department of Health has announced that an eight-strong body will investigate whether people's health suffered long-term damage.

North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler said the announcement on Friday should "reassure victims that, at last, they are being treated seriously.

A proper investigation into this appalling and long neglected affair has been too long in coming

Peter Smith, homeopath

"After so many years of being ignored by officialdom, the victims can at last have some hope of recognition and remedy."

The investigating group will be chaired by Professor Frank Woods, of Sheffield University, and includes homeopath Peter Smith and biologist Doug Cross.

Mr Smith is chairman of the Lowermoor Support Group, and has been involved in treating about 200 people affected by the incident.

Mr Smith said: "A proper investigation into this appalling and long neglected affair has been too long in coming."

Any fresh claims for compensation from the South West Water Authority arising from the inquiry will be pursued through the courts.

'Late consequences'

Two earlier inquiries were carried out by a government health advisory panel, led by Professor Dame Barbara Clayton.

In 1989 they reported there should be no long-term effects from drinking the water, but in 1991 concluded there could be "unforeseen late consequences".

In 1991, after a 17-day trial at Exeter Crown Court, South West Water Authority was fined 10,000 and ordered to pay 25,000 costs, after being convicted of causing a public nuisance by supplying water which contained amounts of the chemical likely to endanger public health or comfort.

Five years ago 148 victims accepted out-of-court damages totalling almost 400,000 in a settlement approved by a High Court judge sitting in Truro.

The settlements ranged from nearly 700 to 10,000.

But victims continued to insist their suffering had not been recognised, and their case was boosted by a 1999 report in the British Medical Journal, which said they had suffered "considerable damage" to their brain function.

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