The cases of Tamara Hutchinson, 10, and Sam Mansell, 12, highlight the gross inequality in the medical negligence system.

The cases of Tamara Hutchinson, 10, and Sam Mansell, 12, highlight the gross inequality in the medical negligence system.

Both children suffered severe brain damage after being starved of oxygen at birth. Both were raised, despite their disabilities, by devoted parents who worked round the clock and made extraordinary sacrifices for their children. Both families went to court to seek compensation to secure the children's future. Sam won and was awarded £3.28m. Tamara lost and got nothing.

Today, Tamara is still looked after by her parents, Michael and Renate, in their home in Twickenham, south-west London. She goes to a special school, receives the standard social security benefits paid to all disabled people and a few hours "befriending" help from local charities.

Sam has round-the-clock care from two full-time professionals, a specially adapted house and a host of special equipment. After he won his case in October 1998, his mother, Penny, said she planned to take him to Florida for a holiday. At the time it was a record award for medical damages.

The Hutchinsons, who brought the case on behalf of their daughter in 1994, have been saddened and angered by the experience. Tamara's disability was caused by the forceps used to deliver her which trapped and crushed the umbilical cord, depriving her brain of oxygen.

The day after her birth the consultant at the London maternity hospital where she was born told Mrs Hutchinson it was "not the hospital's fault". To get at the truth the couple decided to sue. Four and a half years later, after three weeks in court, the judge ruled against them, describing what had happened as a "tragic mischance" - an act of God, not of a negligent doctor.

Mr Hutchinson, who gave up his job as an investment adviser and now works from home as a banking consultant, said: "Tamara is a happy little girl but life is very difficult for her. She can't walk or talk and although she loves her food, every meal time she has to relearn how to swallow. I wouldn't say she was a burden. She has taught me to be a better person, more understanding of people's needs."

The couple also have two younger children, but Tamara demands most of their time and energy. Since losing the court case, which had imposed a heavy emotional and physical burden, it had been a "constant battle" getting help for her from local authority social and education services, Mr Hutchinson said. The case itself had cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds - and the only ones to benefit were the lawyers.

He added: "Why did we have to go through all this? Why is everything still such a battle to get anything done? The law is a lottery. The dice are loaded against the parents. It would be far, far better if the money spent on the case had been put into a compensation fund for children like Tamara. Why can't we have a situation where health authorities can admit something went wrong, without conceding negligence, and pay compensation?"

The Mansells were winners in the compensation lottery - but only after an 11-year legal battle. Sam was born at Withybush hospital, Haverfordwest, in September 1987, and like Tamara was starved of oxygen at birth. The damage to his brain left him unable to eat or speak and his limbs thrash uncontrollably. He is constantly bandaged to prevent him injuring himself and furniture and equipment has to be padded. However, his intelligence is unimpaired.

His mother described how she had phoned social services up to seven times a day during the early years trying to get help for her son. At one stage there were even veiled threats that he might be taken away from her.

Speaking after the court case last year, Ms Mansell said: "I have spent 11 years trying to get money from the state and they have called me difficult and awkward. I feel bitterness. He need not have been so disabled if the proper therapies and equipment he needed were available."

Ms Mansell revealed that it was only chance that led to their winning the settlement. The case only made progress when they switched to a firm of specialist medical negligence lawyers in Manchester. It ended with a record award.