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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
How Legionnaires' struck Barrow
Forum 28
The source was traced to an air-conditioning system
News of the Legionnaires' outbreak in the Cumbrian town of Barrow first emerged early in August 2002.

It went on to become one of the UK's worst outbreaks, affecting almost 200 people and leading to an investigation into seven deaths.

Health experts quickly traced the suspected source to an air conditioning system at the Barrow Borough Council-run Forum 28 arts complex.

A major incident team was set up to handle the outbreak.

The air conditioning unit at the complex was shut down because it had been emitting steam into the street.

It meant people in the building were not necessarily at risk, but people passing in an alleyway outside could have been exposed.

Legionnaires' Disease
Legionnaires' Disease is a rare form of pneumonia
It takes its name from the first known outbreak, which occurred in a hotel hosting a convention of the Pennsylvania Department of the American Legion in 1976
It is most often contracted by inhaling mist from water sources which are contaminated with Legionella pnuemophilia bacteria, or other bacteria in the family Legionellaceae

The first person in the town to die was Richard Macauley, 88, known locally as Gerry, but it was not known initially whether his death was connected to the outbreak.

At first health experts believed the outbreak might not be as bad as they had originally feared, saying it had peaked a week after it began.

But shortly afterwards it was confirmed that Wendy Millburn, 56, of Walney, had become its second victim.

It was then again hoped that the worst was over after no new cases were reported.

But those hopes were dashed with the death of Georgina Somerville, 54, and confirmed cases among people in Scotland, who had been visiting Barrow at the time of the infection.

Nearly a week later it was confirmed the disease had claimed its fourth victim, Harriet Low, 74.

It was around this time the outbreak was officially traced to the air conditioning unit at Forum 28.

Legionnaires' Disease
The disease can only be contracted from a contaminated water system - it cannot be passed from person to person
Initial symptoms are similar to those of flu - headache, muscle pain and a general feeling of being unwell. They are followed by high fever and shaking chills and nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may occur. There may be disorientation, confusion, hallucination and loss of memory

A month after the start of the outbreak Christine Merewood, 55, died.

There were investigations into a sixth death - June Miles, aged 56 - which it was thought at that stage could be linked to the disease.

In November, Cumbria Police, who were carrying out a corporate manslaughter investigation into the cases, linked the deaths of Ms Miles and Elizabeth Dixon, 80, to their inquiries.

The final person to be affected left hospital in December 2002, four months after the bug was first recognised.

In February 2003, Gillian Beckingham appeared in court charged with seven counts of manslaughter. Barrow Borough Council also answered summonses in connection with the seven manslaughter charges and an alleged health and safety offence.

In March 2005, a judge ordered the jury to find Barrow Borough Council not guilty of all charges.

The council had already admitted breaching Health and Safety legislation.

In April 2005 the Crown Prosecution Service asked for a retrial of Gillian Beckingham on seven manslaughter charges after the jury failed to reach a verdict.

She was subsequently cleared of the manslaughter charges but found guilty of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act.

She had been accused of failing to ensure the maintenance of an air-conditioning unit at Forum 28.


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