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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Camelford poisoning hearings begin
1998 petition. From left: homeopath Peter Smith, organiser Doreen Skudder, Paul Tyler MP, victim Sybil Griffiths and Dr K Baosha.
Campaigners took their case to Downing Street
People involved in Britain's worst water poisoning incident are giving evidence about the experience after waiting nearly 14 years.

An inquiry panel was beginning two days of hearings in Camelford, north Cornwall, at 1000 BST on Wednesday.

The incident occurred on 6 July 1988 when a contractor's relief driver poured 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate into the wrong tank at the unmanned Lowermoor treatment plant.

The inquiry team arrived as people in Helston, west Cornwall, were given the all-clear to drink tap water after the supply was polluted with diesel in a separate incident.

We are keen to hear from anyone wanting to give evidence

Professor Frank Woods
The Camelford inquiry was announced in August after a long campaign by local people.

The government's Lowermoor Incident Health Advisory Group reported in 1989 and 1991 that there was no convincing evidence of a harmful build-up of aluminium.

It said there was no increase in ill health from poisoned water, but recognised the affair had caused "real suffering" in the community.

Brain damage

In 1991 it concluded there could be "unforeseen late consequences".

And a 1999 report in the British Medical Journal said people had suffered "considerable damage" to their brain function.

Expectations are running high that this committee will finally get to the bottom of this horrendous incident

Paul Smith, Lowermoor Support Group
This week's timetable included an opening session with representatives of South West Water, owner of the Lowermoor works.

A public meeting was scheduled for Wednesday evening, between 1900 and 2100 BST, to explain how the inquiry will operate.

Inquiry work began in January and will continue for several months, with a sub-panel continuing to visit the town.

Local witnesses

Members of the community will give evidence on Thursday morning.

The inquiry chairman, Professor Frank Woods, said: "Visiting Camelford is an essential part of this investigation.

"We are keen to hear from anyone wanting to give evidence to the sub-group.

"They will provide us with vital evidence in our consideration of whether there have been any adverse long-term health effects."

Health checks

The government-appointed panel includes two local representatives - biologist Doug Cross and Paul Smith, chair of the Lowermoor Support Group.

Mr Smith said: "Expectations are running high that this committee will finally get to the bottom of this horrendous incident."

He wanted to see immediate health tests on a small sample of the population "in advance of a more in-depth appraisal of the health and social impact of the poisoning".

Five years ago 148 victims accepted out-of-court damages totalling almost 400,000, approved by a High Court judge sitting in Truro. The settlements ranged from nearly 700 to 10,000.

Helston warning

Any fresh compensation claims arising from the inquiry must be pursued through the courts.

The Camelford hearings began as people in Helston were told it was safe to drink the town's water after a pollution incident on Tuesday.

South West Water said tests revealed a small quantity of diesel had entered the supply.

Shops sold out of bottled water after the company's original advice not to drink or use the water for cooking.

Doctors continue to advise people in Helston to avoid tap water if it smells.

See also:

22 Jan 02 | England
Camelford team investigates safety
18 Jan 02 | England
'Hope' for Camelford victims
14 Aug 01 | Health
Camelford victims' health fears
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