Infected children to sue over lethal food bug

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The Independent Online
Seven children are suing the Government and other organisations after they were infected by the food poisoning bug which has now claimed the lives of six pensioners in Scotland.

Their families say the Government failed to warn the public and advise health authorities and NHS trusts about the dangers of E-coli 0157, the bacterium responsible for the food poisoning.

Last night police were investigating the Wishaw butcher John M Barr, whose shop is thought to be at the centre of the outbreak in Scotland, after cooked meat was allegedly supplied to an 18th birthday party a day after he was ordered to stop selling it. Lanarkshire Health Board later confirmed that of 104 people who attended, 22 have fallen ill.

Yesterday, the outbreakclaimed its sixth victim when a 72-year-old woman died. Some 168 cases of E-coli 0157 infection were confirmed out of 307 people reported as having symptoms. Fifty-eight people are still in hospital, including seven children. The condition of 21 adults and four children is giving cause for concern, said the Scottish Office.

It emerged yesterday that during this summer, seven children, all under the age of eight, contracted the bug in unrelated cases in England. They were yesterday granted legal aid to sue the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. Three of them will also be suing the fast food chain McDonald's and their suppliers McKey Foods Ltd.

Gary Thomas claimed his two daughters picked up the bacteria after eating a McDonald's meal in Liverpool last August. In a separate case, a three-year-old fell ill after a meal at a McDonald's in Gateshead.

In the Stoke cases, four children from two families fell ill after eating rare burgers at a family barbecue. Their parents are taking action against the butchers which supplied the meat.

Lucy Kennedy, of Howe & Co, which is representing all the families, said a report by the Advisory Committee on Microbiological Safety of Food published in 1995 warned against E-coli 0157. The report recommended the labelling of beef products with information about the bacterium and said that hygiene methods in abattoirs needed to be reviewed.

The Department of Health said health professionals received advice from the royal colleges and from the Public Health Laboratory Service.

McDonald's said last night: "We take any claims of this nature very seriously and will investigate fully as soon as details have been advised to us by the lawyers involved."

n Doctors are trying to trace 20 students at the University of Wales in Cardiff who have not been given antibiotic treatment against the outbreak of meningitis that has killed two students.

No more cases of meningitis were reported in Cardiff yesterday. Twenty- four students are under observation, three others are being treated for the disease.