Thalidomide firm doubles its payouts for victims

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The Independent Online

Victims of thalidomide welcomed an announcement yesterday that the company responsible for the drug is to more than double payments to the official compensation fund.

The drinks giant Diageo has agreed to increase its annual contributions to the Thalidomide Trust from £2.8m to £6.5m.

Campaigners had warned the funding arrangements would not have met the future needs of sufferers, as many had survived beyond the expectations of doctors.

Diageo, which took over the Distillers firm that had marketed the drug to pregnant mothers in the 1960s, also issued an apology for the suffering caused.

About 10,000 babies were born with stunted arms and legs or no limbs after their mothers took thalidomide for morning sickness. It was withdrawn in 1961, but it took until 1968 for the first compensation settlements to be agreed.

In Britain, 480 children were born with thalidomide-related deformities, of which 25 have died.

Despite their parents being told they would die early or be "vegetables", many of the victims have overcome their disabilities to become successful professionals.

According to the Thalidomide Trust, which administers the compensation payments, half of the victims are in employment, the majority have married and more than 500 children have been born to people affected by the drug. But in recent years, victims have reported additional health problems such as accelerated damage to joints and limbs that have caused further disability.

Some have had to undergo hip and shoulder replacements at the age of 40, prompting Diageo to make an additional one-off contribution of £4.4m earlier this year.

The new, "full and final" agreement will be index-linked and will run until 2037. It will allow the trust to increase payments to victims from the current average of about £13,000 a year. Diageo has also said it will not consider any further direct claims for compensation by individuals after the end of next year.

Nick Dobrik, deputy chairman of the Thalidomide Trust's National Advisory Council, said: "These extra funds will help them to live with increasing levels of disability as they get older and will ensure that those affected will have a financially secure future."

Lord Blyth, chairman of Diageo, said: "The suffering and hurt of those affected has troubled us all.

"We acknowledge the efforts of all those involved in recent discussions to bring this matter to a mutually agreed conclusion."

Freddie Astbury, president of Thalidomide UK and whose limbs were all stunted by the drug, said: "After 13 years of campaigning which included a hunger strike, we are pleased and relieved to have reached this agreement."

Thalidomide is now used as a cancer drug because it can shrink tumours.