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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 01:51 GMT 02:51 UK
Call for inquiry into vCJD trust
vCJD graphic
The disease has claimed the lives of 156 people
Families of the victims of the human form of mad cow disease are calling on the Department of Health to investigate the body set up to compensate them.

So far the vCJD Trust, created in October 2001, has awarded 30m to families under the scheme.

But BBC Two's Newsnight revealed it had spent 7m in legal costs and expenses.

Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey, speaking on the programme, said he would ask the National Audit Office to launch an inquiry into the scheme.

The Department of Health said the trust is an independent body, which must make its own decisions but that it is committed to keeping the costs of administering it as low as possible.

Complexities

Under the scheme, each victim or their family receives an automatic payment of up to 125,000, with more available to those suffering particular hardship.

But Newsnight revealed that Charles Russell solicitors - the law firm administering the scheme - is earning up to 5 in fees for every 1 paid out in discretionary payments for particular hardship.

Sir Robert Owen, the trust's chair, said it largely came down to the "complexity of the trust fund".

"I think all now accept that this is not the way that such a trust fund ought to be set up for the future, it is far too complicated.

"But if we are to discharge our duties as trustees of public money properly, we have to do the job properly, and that means we have to scrutinise every claim with great care," he told the programme.

Richard Vallance, a senior partner at Charles Russell, said most complications arose from small discretionary claims.

"In a lot of claims, the one thing that is still outstanding are the particular hardship claims, and those are the ones that are causing the most difficulty.

"They're relatively small amounts but a lot of the current files relate to that."

Early concerns

A letter obtained by the programme, under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the Department of Health had expressed concern about the costs as early as February 2003.

Mr Harvey said: "I think it's perfectly clear the Department of Health has been uncomfortable about this we now know for a very long time."

He added he would be persuading the National Audit Office to investigate the matter.

Janet Gibbs, a bereaved mother who also chairs the Human BSE Foundation, said some members no longer wanted the law firm to continue running the compensation scheme.

"If that's possible I think that will be of great benefit to the families and the administration of the Trust," she said.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch BBC Newsnight's investigation in the vCJD trust



SEE ALSO:
Family's distress at vCJD scheme
15 Feb 06 |  Southern Counties


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