Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 15:03 UK

Families agree Corby poison waste settlement

by Paul Baker
BBC East

Child's deformed hand
Some children living close to the Corby site were born with deformities

George Taylor is 18 and like many other teenagers of his age, except that most of his right hand has been removed after a series of tumours.

In an historic judgement, a court decided these had been caused by his pregnant mother's exposure to toxic waste as it was being removed from a former steelworks in the Northamptonshire town of Corby.

George and 18 other children will now share an out-of-court settlement reached with Corby Borough Council, which carried out the clean-up.

Corby steelworks closed in 1980 and the industrial sites were bought by the local authority for regeneration.

Before any building work could begin, the site had to be cleared and thousands of tonnes of contaminated land was removed.

However, the clearance operation was badly managed.

Erin Brokovich

Corby Borough Council has reached a settlement with 19 young people who suffered personal injury allegedly caused as a result of the clean-up of the former British steel plant in Corby.

It spread toxic waste across the Corby area and in subsequent years children began to be born with birth defects, such as missing fingers.

When the cluster of cases was recognised, the families came together in an attempt to prove that the clean-up was to blame and to fight for an apology and compensation.

In July last year, the families' battle was upheld in a landmark ruling.

The High Court found the council not only to have been negligent in its management of the waste but said the contaminants were likely to have caused these birth defects.

Des Collins, the solicitor representing the families, has worked on the case for 10 years and the similarities of the case, centred on public health issues and his determination to win, have drawn comparisons with American legal clerk Erin Brockovich.

She fought a legal battle against The Pacific Gas and Electric Company over claims it had poisoned the water supply around the Californian town of Hinkley.

'Witness stuff'

The settlement for the residents of the town was more than $300m and Ms Brockovich's story was turned into a Hollywood film.

Ms Brockovich added her support to Mr Collins and the families of Corby.

She said: "I'm extremely proud of them and it takes a lot to stand up and use your voice and have every distraction in front of you, to want you to go away and not use your voice; and for those families to fight for justice and fight for what they believe in, and to the attorneys that come forward on their behalf to the legal system."

This week, Corby Council and Mr Collins were locked in talks to reach a settlement.

For George Taylor a settlement would mean he could start to be independent and would also be able to look to the future.

He said: "I reckoned if it was over in April, it would be alright.

"I could stop being asked about it all the time. I have to keep telling my friends the story of it - I have to keep saying it won't end till 'I don't know when' but I want it to stop, and not have to do this witness stuff, and tell my story over and over."

'Corby the toxic town' can be seen on 18 April at 2255 BST on BBC One in the East. Also available on iPlayer.

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