Page last updated at 14:05 GMT, Saturday, 6 September 2008 15:05 UK

Poison coroner slams government

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Aluminium Sulphate was mistakenly put into the drinking water supply near Camelford in 1988

A coroner has criticised the government after he was forced to adjourn an inquest involving a major water poisoning incident.

Twenty tonnes of aluminium sulphate were dumped into the wrong tank at Lowermoor water treatment works in Camelford, Cornwall, in 1988.

When Carole Cross died large amounts of aluminium were found in her brain.

West Somerset coroner Michael Rose, who wants further tests, has criticised the government's lack of assistance.

In a statement, he said he had been forced to turn to Somerset County Council to pay for an expert investigation into the link because the government refused "to either finance or assist in such research".

'Considerable reluctance'

The Department of Health (DoH) said the government had already commissioned a review of the potential health consequences, which was undertaken by the Committee on Toxicity (COT) and chaired by Professor Frank Woods.

It said the independent investigation was ready to publish its final report, but its release had been delayed at the request of the coroner.

"We have asked the coroner to agree to publication, which we feel we owe to the families concerned and the wider public," a DoH spokesperson said.

"Among Professor Woods' recommendations is the need for further research, but this cannot be commissioned until the Committee on Toxicity's report is published."

Witness search

An independent inquiry report, published in January 2005, said it was unlikely the chemicals involved in the Camelford incident would have caused any persistent or delayed health effects.

But sampling on 58-year-old Mrs Cross, who died in 2004, showed "abnormally high" levels of aluminium in her brain. She had suffered from a neurological disease.

Her husband, environmental scientist Doug Cross, had been investigating the medical effects of the poisoning.

The couple, who were Camelford residents, moved to Dulverton in Somerset two years after the incident.

The inquest into the death of Mrs Cross was due to be held in November in Taunton, but Mr Rose has now adjourned it "with considerable reluctance" so further tests can take place.

He said: "The adjournment will also assist me in tracing the whereabouts of a further six of the 22 witnesses who it is felt could give evidence that would assist a jury in establishing the facts of the 1988 incident."

A second inquest into the death of 91-year-old Irene Neal will go ahead as planned, the coroner confirmed.

'Cover-up'

Mrs Neal, whose home in Rock, north Cornwall, was served by the Camelford water system, died in a nursing home in Buckfastleigh, Devon, in June last year.

Post-mortem tests also revealed high levels of aluminium.

Last year the coroner asked the Chief Constable Stephen Otter of Devon and Cornwall Police to appoint a senior detective to look into allegations of what he called a "cover-up".

Victims of the Lowermoor blunder, who suffered vomiting, mouth ulcers and rashes, have been demanding a full investigation for two decades.

After a trial at Exeter Crown Court in 1991, the South West Water Authority was fined 10,000 with 25,000 costs for supplying water likely to endanger public health.

Three years later, 148 victims of the incident reached an out-of-court settlement, with payments ranging from 680 to 10,000.


SEE ALSO
Camelford 'cover-up' claim probed
13 Dec 07 |  Cornwall
Water poisoning report 'flawed'
11 Dec 07 |  Cornwall
Brain tests show aluminium traces
29 Nov 07 |  Cornwall
Poisoned water inquiry concludes
14 May 07 |  Cornwall
Call to test poisoned water users
20 Apr 06 |  Cornwall

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