The Department of Health yesterday said there was a "probable" new case, in addition to 14 known victims, two of whom are still alive.
However, a spokesman refused to confirm that the new case was that of 19-year-old Victoria Lowther from Carlisle, Cumbria, whose death in November last year was widely reported to have been caused by new variant CJD. This form of the disease can only be confirmed absolutely after a postmortem, although there are characteristics which distinguish it from the classic form of the degenerative brain disease which tends to occur in people over 60.
Scientists announced the discovery of new variant CJD in March last year. Their advice to the Government, that the most likely cause was bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), triggered the beef crisis.