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Legal action against a privatised water company was launched yesterday over allegations that it supplied water unfit for human consumption. South West Water is accused of providing contaminated water to areas of south Devon in August and September 1995. It is alleged that the water, from SWW's treatment works in Littlehempston, Devon, caused an outbreak of the illness cryptosporidiosis, which caused stomach upsets, severe abdominal pain and diarrhoea to 575 people in the area.

The case, brought by John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment, will come before Newton Abbot magistrates on 6 August. It follows investigations by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, whose report will be published after the hearings.