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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 11:46 GMT
Camelford team investigates safety
Camelford waterworks in 1990
Water at the treatment plant was seriously polluted
An inquiry panel is considering whether extra safeguards are needed to prevent a repeat of Britain's worst water poisoning incident.

The panel has begun investigations 13 years after supplies around Camelford, north Cornwall, were polluted with 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate.

The investigation will also consider the effects on animals for the first time.

Environmentalist Doug Cross, a member of the panel, said: "We were told this is only a medical problem and all the work I did on animals has been ignored."

The inquiry, which started work on Tuesday, has been set up to determine whether the incident at Lowermoor treatment works caused delayed ongoing effects on health.

Victims 'ignored'

Local people are being asked to tell their own stories during the next few months.

The panel includes Mr Cross, who lived locally at the time of the pollution, and Peter Smith, chairman of the Lowermoor support group.

Mr Smith is a homeopath who has given complementary medical care to about 200 people who may have been affected.

North Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MP, Paul Tyler, said the Department of Health inquiry should reassure victims they were being treated seriously "after so many years of being ignored by officialdom".

Delayed effects

It is chaired by Professor Frank Woods, of Sheffield University.

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

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".

400,000 pay-out

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.

It was convicted of causing a public nuisance by supplying water that contained amounts of 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.

Their case was boosted by a 1999 report in the British Medical Journal, which said they had suffered "considerable damage" to their brain function.

The whole inquiry team will be in Cornwall in the spring.

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