Parents of 30 children sue over birth defects they blame on clean-up of toxic waste dumps

Mothers of 30 children born with webbed hands or webbed feet have won the right to bring a multimillion-pound legal action to try to prove a link between the mismanagement of toxic waste dumps and the birth defects.

Expert evidence submitted to the High Court in London supports the mothers' claim that during their pregnancies they were exposed to contamination from the waste sites left over from the clean-up of Northamptonshire's former steel industry.

In a major breakthrough for the families, a judge has given permission for the parents to pursue the claim against Corby Borough Council as a group action involving children born between 1985 and 1999.

Corby became a steel-making centre in the 1930s after rich iron ore deposits were found and by 1960 was one of the most heavily industrialised areas in the Midlands. But in the early Eighties the industry became unprofitable and British Steel closed the site, leaving the council to take care of the clean-up operation.

Dozens of lorries were used to transport the residual poisonous waste, mostly lead and zinc by-products from the steel-making process, to two sealed containers north-east of the town. Some of the claimants remember the air full of pungent fumes when council engineers began opening the toxic pits - between eight and 16 of them - scattered around Corby.

The families' case relies on scientific reports that show the rates of upper-limb defect in babies born in Corby during that time were about three times higher than those of children born in the surrounding area. A further report describes the subsequent clean-up operation as "environmental negligence on a grand scale" while another concludes that exposure to the harmful chemicals is likely to have caused the children's deformities.

Des Collins, the solicitor acting for the eight lead families in the case, said the parents wanted to know why so many children from a relatively small community were born with upper- and lower-limb deformities. In particular they want to know whether negligence was a factor. He said: "The claimants' case is that it is known toxic chemicals can produce a range of congenital defects, and that exposure of a mother or a father prior to or during pregnancy can affect the development of a child and is capable of producing congenital malfunctions." Many of the children face years of painful restorative surgery as doctors remove some of their toes so they can graft them on to their hands to act as fingers. Mr Collins added: "In all cases there is no family history of limb defect and those advising the parents have been unable to provide any medical explanation for the condition."

A report by Roger Braithwaite, an environmental expert instructed by the families, concludes that the negligent handling of the wastedemonstrated "naivety, arrogance, ignorance, incompetence and a possible serious conflict of interest ... At this early stage it would seem to me that these ... badly polluted lands have never been effectively or comprehensively assessed, properly permitted, regulated, monitored or adequate records maintained ... This is environmental negligence on a grand scale."

An order approved by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, to be published next week, will set out the terms of the litigation in relation to the council's management and execution of the "land reclamation contracts" between 1985 and 1999 and any duty they had to the families.

Chris Mallender, the borough council's chief executive, said: "Now we will finally be able to answer these charges and show that our town regeneration has been clean and safe."

Joann Harrison, 24: 'It is illogical but you end up blaming yourself'

Joann Harrison had moved away from Corby by the time her daughter India was born. It took a phone call from her father, who still lived in the town, to suggest that there might be link between India's deformed left hand and her mother's exposure to toxic chemicals in old waste dumps.

Ms Harrison was living eight miles away in Kettering and blamed herself for India's physical deformities. "You go through everything that you had done while you were pregnant. How could I have prevented her from being like this? I was convinced I was being punished for mocking the afflicted sometime in my life. It's completely illogical but you end up blaming yourself."

After India's father called Ms Harrison remembered that during her pregnancy she had spent many days visiting family and friends in the Corby area. It was a time when the waste dumps were being disturbed by the reclamation project and Ms Harrison believes she was exposed to the contamination.

Some of her friends and neighbours had children born with similarly rare defects. "It was very odd. We all lived near to each other, everybody knew everybody else. We had played together or went to school together. And we all had children with this deformity."

Ms Harrison says of India, aged six: "She doesn't like to let it stop her doing what she wants. Because her sister can do handstands, she wants to copy her. But she hasn't got the strength in her left hand. She tries it a few times, but then leaves it." Doctors say she will eventually lose movement of her shortened arm.

Ms Harrison says: "All I really want to know is how and why Corby has created a whole generation of children with arm, hand and foot defects. That's all we all want. So we can say to our children when they grow up that we did our best to give them the answers to the questions they will be asking themselves."

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London