Inquiry launched into Camelford poisoning

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The Independent Online

An inquiry into the long–term health effects of water poisoning around Camelford in Cornwall was announced today by Environment Minister Michael Meacher but it was not the full public inquiry some campaigners wanted.

Mr Meacher said that the investigation would be "a transparent, independent and inclusive process" but insisted that a full public inquiry would not be "appropriate" in the light of the time that has passed since the 1988 incident.

Some 700 people were awarded compensation for short–term health problems such as diarrhoea and sickness following the accidental addition of toxic chemical aluminium sulphate to their water supply.

But Mr Meacher said that "several dozen" believed their health had suffered permanent damage, and that the main aim of the new inquiry would be to establish whether this was the case.

Campaigners say the full consequences of the incident were covered up by the Tory government of the day because it was in the middle of privatising the water industry and wanted no bad publicity; the publicly owned South-West Water Authority, in charge of Camelford's supplies at the time, was being transformed into the privatised South-West Water.

Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall, who has led the inquiry campaign, said: "The accident was a major calamity, the worst of its type to happen in Britain, but what happened afterwards was undoubtedly covered up for political convenience as water was about to be privatised.

"My constituents were undoubtedly injured – some people's lives have been wrecked – but insult was added to the injury by the failure to look after them. I will be delighted by the announcement of an inquiry."