Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

'Freak' factors in anthrax death

Pascal Norris
Mr Norris died as a result of inhaling anthrax spores

A "freak" set of circumstances led to the death of a Borders man who inhaled anthrax, a sheriff has found.

Sheriff Edward Bowen QC said 50-year-old Christopher "Pascal" Norris had been "the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time".

A fatal accident inquiry was held after Mr Norris, of Stobs near Hawick, died after inhaling anthrax in July 2006.

Instruments from a drumming class which he had recently attended later tested positive for spores.

Mr Norris was the first person to die of anthrax in the UK in more than 30 years, and the first death by inhaling the spores in more than 100 years.

His death was the subject of a fatal accident inquiry in Edinburgh in November.

Overall, putting the matter in simple terms, not only was Mr Norris in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was probably the wrong person to be there
Sheriff Edward Bowen QC

Sheriff Bowen has now delivered his findings, in which he decided not to recommend tighter rules on importing African drums to the UK.

He said anthrax was "not a major public health problem" and added that African drum users should not be overly concerned about the risks.

"The circumstances in which Mr Norris came to be infected themselves demonstrate the 'freak' nature of the event," he said.

"Many other people were exposed to the risk of anthrax infection from the same source without coming to harm."

The sheriff said the acquisition of anthrax infection by inhalation was "an extremely unlikely occurrence" and should not cause concern among people using African drums.

Anthrax
The sheriff said it was not possible to say how Mr Norris came to be infected

The inquiry heard how traces of anthrax were found on drums used in classes held in the Borders.

It sought to establish why Mr Norris was the only person out of dozens who attended events in Kelso and Smailholm to be infected.

"It is not possible to say how Mr Norris came to be infected - it is quite conceivable that he could have been infected if he had swept the floor in Smailholm village hall," said the sheriff.

"He did not need to be playing any particular drum for infection to have occurred."

Sheriff Bowen said Mr Norris's earlier bout of leukaemia in 2002, from which he was in remission, could have made him more susceptible to the bacteria.

"Overall, putting the matter in simple terms, not only was Mr Norris in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was probably the wrong person to be there," he said.

The sheriff said banning the importation of drums was not the answer.

Raise awareness

"Short of an outright ban on the importation of animal skin products into the UK it is difficult to see what steps could be taken to eliminate the risk of repetition," he said.

"Having regard to the level of risk, such a step would be wholly disproportionate."

Mr Norris's brother, Michael Norris, said he hoped the case would encourage other drummers to take steps to have their drums tested for anthrax.

"I would agree that you wouldn't get very far trying to limit the importation of skins because they would still come in," he said.

"I just thought that there must be some way of raising public awareness amongst drummers."

Investigations are currently ongoing into the death of drum maker Fernando Gomez from anthrax in London last year.

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