Bomb families face compensation fight

Docklands blast: Victims beset by damage to property and rehousing still to receive any financial help or trauma counselling
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The Independent Online

Families whose homes were badly damaged by the Docklands bomb in February have received nocompensation and many have received no counselling for the trauma they suffered.

There is no form of official compensation for people who lose property in a bomb explosion in Britain. Few of the families living on the Isle of Dogs, close to the South Quay blast, had insurance policies.

Some families have been offered loans from the Government's Social Fund, but many have been unable to take them up because they cannot afford the repayments.

Eight weeks after the bombing, rehoused families say their children are having nightmares and are having to live in homes without carpets and curtains.

Elizabeth Holdgate, 26, a single mother with four children under the age of five, was rehoused after the bomb. Miss Holdgate said her flat had been badly damaged in the blast. She could not afford insurance, and now lives in a flat without carpets, wallpaper or curtains and little furniture.

The windows of her flat were blown in by the bomb, except the living- room where Miss Holdgate was sitting with her baby, then four months old. Her other children, aged two, four and five, were playing on the stairs. "They could so easily have been killed," she said.

"Prince Charles came and saw us and someone from the Government said they would look after us," she says. "I had just moved into the flat after waiting five years for a council house. I started trying to get compensation, but it took so long I couldn't wait. I've got young children and a baby and I don't have much money.

She gets just pounds 75 a week from the state and was forced to turn to a loan shark to help pay for her damaged curtains. "A man came round and offered me some money ... about pounds 200. I pay him money every week."

She said she would like counselling for her children, particularly her five-year-old daughter who has nightmares. "Last night she was screaming, saying a big plane was crashing into the house."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment said: "There is no government compensation scheme for bomb victims. They could try . . . the Social Fund or the criminal injuries compensation board."

Tower Hamlets council estimates that the the bomb, which also damaged a school and caused structural damage to hundreds of homes, will cost it around pounds 1m. The Government has yet to decide where this money is to come from.

Nick Raynsford, Labour's London spokesman, said it had been suggested that the council's costs would be covered by the Bellwin scheme, set up to cover unexpected events. However, there were drawbacks because the council had not been able to afford insurance for the area, which is close to Docklands' commercial centres.