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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Virus research 'breached safety rules'
lab work
Researchers failed to take proper precautions, the court heard
One of London's top research units has admitted that it broke health and safety legislation while combining two dangerous viruses.

Imperial College had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing at London's Marylebone Magistrates Court to two charges relating to laboratory work involving a combination of the Hepatitis C and dengue fever viruses.

The college had already been fined 20,000 in March for another health and safety offence relating to the storage of HIV.

They have now been committed to crown court for sentencing.

District judge Elizabeth Roscoe said that the breaches were "potentially extremely dangerous and a matter of high public concern."

The college, in Kensington, west London, admitted "failing to apply principles of good micro-biological practice and principles of good occupational safety and hygiene" under regulations governing genetically modified organisms.

The researchers were trying to create an artificial hybrid of the two viruses.

Workers' safety

The college had also pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure the safety of employees.

The Health and Safety Executive prosecution followed an inspection at the college's St Mary's Hospital campus during December 1998.

In a statement the college said: "Imperial College regrets these breaches of the health and safety legislation but stresses that no member of the public was at risk at any time.

"Hepatitis C virus infects around 200 million carriers world-wide.

"This research project intended to produce a new type of hybrid Hepatitis C virus, which would allow researchers to speed up their search for a vaccine and to replace the use of animals in much of this work.

"The college has stringent policies and procedures in place to regulate activities of this nature.

"It takes all its health and safety responsibilities very seriously and has taken steps to ensure that such an incident cannot happen again.

"Extra staff devoted to monitoring and advising on safety in the college are now in post."

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