Growth hormone victims win pounds 300,000 damages

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The Independent Online
DAMAGES OF up to pounds 300,000 each were awarded yesterday to six people who said they had suffered psychiatric illness from their fear of developing Creutzfeldt Jakob disease - the human form of mad cow disease.

The six had all been treated with contaminated growth hormone as children to increase their stature.

Delivering judgment at the High Court sitting in Lincoln, Mr Justice Morland said the claimants had "rational fears" about one day "succumbing to a ghastly lingering death from CJD".

He said: "No amount of psychotherapy or counselling can obliterate the truth. Each plaintiff remains indefinitely at risk of CJD which is inevitably fatal and not subject to amelioration or treatment."

The six, who are to receive between pounds 3,500 and pounds 300,000, will pave the way for up to 40 other similar cases to claim compensation.

The successful claimants were teacher Paul Andrews, 32, from Putney, south-west London who is to receive around pounds 300,000; former factory worker Neil Scanlon, 36, from Ebbw Vale, Cardiff, who is to receive pounds 160,000; jockey David Lockhart, 27, from Newmarket, Suffolk, who was awarded pounds 13,000; nurse Philip Johnston, 25, who is to receive pounds 26,000 and his sister Claire, 29, both from Staffordshire, who is to receive pounds 16,000; and chef Justin Parkes, 27, from Essex who was awarded pounds 3,500.

None has yet contracted CJD, but Mr Justice Morland said: "For an individual plaintiff the risk may be remote or, if it eventuates, may not occur for decades. But it is a real risk." An earlier hearing was told between 1959 and 1985 nearly 2,000 children in the UK whose growth was stunted because of a growth hormone deficiency were treated with a hormone taken from the pituitary gland of corpses.

Of the 2,000, 27 people have gone on to develop the fatal condition and 25 of them have died.It is not known how many more of the 2,000 will go on to develop CJD which causes victims to lose control of their movements and mental faculties.

The human growth hormone programme was ended in May 1985, after several children who had been treated in the United States died of CJD.

In July 1996, Mr Justice Morland ruled that the Department of Health was negligent in not heeding the warning of Dr Alan Dickinson, who in 1977 told the Medical Research Council about the risk of contracting CJD from human growth hormone treatment.

The judge said it was only natural that those at risk would worry if they suffered any episode such as dizziness or faintness - fearing it was the first symptom of the condition.

In his judgment, he stressed that the plaintiffs had had to prove that, on the balance of probabilities, they had suffered a genuine psychiatric illness caused by becoming aware of the risk of CJD.

It was not enough to be upset, distressed or worried by the risk, he said.

"A recurring theme is the sense of betrayal and anger. Each plaintiff trusting their parents who, in turn, had trusted their clinician and had undergone a long period of unpleasant therapy."