Council pays out over toxic waste birth defects

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A council found negligent in its reclamation of an old steelworks site - blamed for causing birth defects - today agreed to pay compensation to the children affected.

In a landmark High Court ruling last July, Corby Borough Council was found negligent in its management of toxic waste at the former steelworks site in the town during the 1980s and 1990s.

The council had denied it was negligent and that there was a link between the removal of waste to a quarry north of the site and deformities affecting hands and feet.

But Mr Justice Akenhead found there was a "statistically significant" cluster of birth defects between 1989 and 1999.

The council had previously said it would fight the ruling, but today agreed to drop its challenge.

After talks this week, it said it had reached a final, binding agreement with 19 young people.

It will now pay compensation to each of the children, without accepting liability in the case, it announced today in a joint statement with the solicitors of the families involved.

The statement said the financial terms of settlement remain confidential and would require approval by the court in the case of the younger children.

Corby Borough Council chief executive Chris Mallender said: "The council recognises that it made mistakes in its clean-up of the former British Steel site years ago and extends its deepest sympathy to the children and their families.

"Although I accept that money cannot properly compensate these young people for their disabilities and for all that they have suffered to date and their problems in the future, the council sincerely hopes that this apology coupled with today's agreement will mean that they can now put their legal battle behind them and proceed with their lives with a greater degree of financial certainty."

Des Collins, solicitor for the families involved, said they were relieved the battle was over.

He said: "My clients live with the daily reminder of the sub-standard clean-up of the former British Steel plant in Corby. "Of course, no financial sum can properly compensate for their lifelong deformities and disabilities.

"However, they are relieved that their long battle is now over.

"Today's agreement recognises the many years of emotional and physical suffering the 19 families have endured and will continue to endure.

"It marks the end of an arduous 11-year legal challenge and removes the prospect of further litigation.

"Importantly it also provides a financial award which will help towards the healthcare costs and loss of earnings they will inevitably face in the future.

"I pay tribute to the immense determination and spirit of the Corby children and their families have shown to secure the outcome we have today.

"The families are grateful for the apology and expression of good wishes from Mr Mallender."

Mr Collins said he hoped their experience in the case would benefit others in the future who had to consider environmental and public health risks from the reclamation of hazardous sites.

Speaking after the announcement, Louise Carley, whose daughter Ashleigh Custance, now 11, has problems with her right hand and arm, said: "I'm relieved. It's a good outcome after a long battle.

"I thought they would appeal, they kept saying they were going to.

"But the mediation went well this week and now we're here.

"This is closure, it means we can move on with our lives. We know what happened and we know why and we can get on with our future."

The 35-year-old retail manager, who recently returned to Corby after 10 years living in nearby Kettering, said the money would not make up for the difficulties they had experienced, but would help for future care and treatment.

"It's the first time they have said sorry," she said. "That means more than anything. It's the fact it's not my fault any more.

"That's what puts closure on it, the apology means more than anything."

Sarah Pearson, mother of 15-year-old Lewis Waterfield, who was born with significant deformities affecting both hands, said: "We are just so relieved our fight is finally at an end.

"On behalf of all the Corby children and their families, I would like to thank all those who have supported us during our long campaign.

"We would also like to give credit to the council for including three other children in this agreement, despite the court's ruling last year."