Father to sue over `mad cow' death

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The Independent Online
The father of two young children whose mother died of the human equivalent of mad cow disease is to sue the Government for compensation on their behalf.

In the first case of its kind, Thomas Kerr, 41, is seeking damages for Gemma, nine, and John, seven, who are now being brought up by their 65- year-old grandmother.

When Mr Kerr's ex-wife, Janice Stuart died in September, aged 35, she became the13th person in the United Kingdom to have contracted the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Since then, a 14th case of the new strain of the degenerative brain disease has been recorded.

Mr Kerr, of Milton of Campsie, near Glasgow, intends to prove that the Government was negligent in failing to warn the public of the dangers of eating beef.

If Mr Kerr's legal action is successful it will open the floodgates for claims from the families of other CJD victims.

Two weeks ago The Independent revealed that, according to new estimates based on cases such as Ms Stuart's, the new variant of CJD could kill up to hundreds of people every year, reaching a peak in about seven years.

Unlike the normal form of CJD which usually affects people aged over 60, the new variant has mostly affected people under 40, including a number of teenagers.

It is incurable, and the symptoms, which take about two years to develop, include depression and failing coordination, followed by dementia and coma leading to death.

Ms Stuart was treated for depression for almost 10 months before she was admitted to the psychiatric unit of Woodilee Hospital, at Kirkintilloch, Strathclyde, in August.

When she became unsteady on her feet, doctors thought that it was the side-effects of the anti-depressants she had been given. Confirmation that she had been suffering from the new strain of CJD came only after her death.

Mr Kerr, a housing manager with East Dunbartonshire council, only learnt that his ex-wife was seriously ill when her mother contacted him in August. He had not seen his two children since his divorce two years earlier.

This weekend he insisted that in taking the case to court he was not seeking to gain personally. "As far as I am concerned they [the Government] allowed it to happen, and I am confident it can be shown that it is the Government which must take responsibility for these deaths," said Mr Kerr.

To his former mother-in-law, Eleanor, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of her daughter.

Speaking from her home in Stirlingshire yesterday, she said: "I'm all for justice, but there's no money could compensate for a life of a dear person - and a mother."

She added, however, that she wanted the public to be made aware of the CJD "cover-up" and would be pleased if the children, for whom she has always been a "second mum", were awarded compensation in the process. "If Gemma and John get compensation I'll be really pleased for them. They're only nine and seven. I'm 65. I'll not be here for ever."

Mr Kerr, who has the backing of his local MP, Tom Clarke, is prepared for a long campaign. "I will see this right through to the end and I won't stop until Gemma and John get what is rightly due to them, or until they are refused," he said.

"There is something morally wrong about this situation and if at the end of the day they can benefit from me drawing attention to it, then so much the better."