Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

French CJD acquittals contested

Fernand Dray (right), former laboratory chief at the French Pasteur Institute
Fernand Dray (right) was in charge of purifying the growth hormones

The Paris prosecutor is appealing against the acquittal of three medical workers over the deaths of 117 children from the brain-wasting disease CJD.

In all, six doctors and pharmacists were acquitted on Wednesday.

They had treated stunted children with growth hormones taken from human corpses in the 1980s, despite a ban on the practice in 14 other countries.

The victims died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The defendants said that at the time they were unaware of any link.

The illness is not the new variant associated with eating tainted beef from animals suffering from mad cow disease.

The prosecutor is appealing against the acquittals of Fernand Dray, 86, former laboratory chief at the Pasteur Institute that purified the hormones; Marc Mollet, 84, of France's central hospital pharmacy that made up the medication; and paediatrician Elisabeth Mugnier, 54.

All three had been charged with homicide, causing bodily harm and deception, the AFP news agency reports. They, along with the other three health officials, had also been charged with "serious negligence".

Risk of more cases

An expert witness for the prosecution, Dr Jean-Philippe Deslys, told the BBC's Europe Today programme that more cases of the disease might yet emerge.

He said that during the 18-month period that the growth hormones were used "we know that more than one thousand children have been exposed to the risk".

"This disease can have a silent incubation period which can reach half a century," he said.

Jeanne Goerrian, head of the French Association of Growth Hormone Victims (AVHC), said she was "shocked" that the judge had taken barely 10 minutes to announce the verdict and had not given an explanation.

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