Families lose vCJD compensation battle

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The Independent Online

Families of victims of the incurable disease vCJD lost a High Court challenge today over what they claim is a "flawed" Government compensation scheme.

The action before Mr Justice Silber was led by Annie McVey, whose 15-year-old daughter Claire, from Kentisbury Ford, near Barnstaple, Devon, died from the human form of BSE - variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease - in 2000.



It had been argued on behalf of Mrs McVey and a number of other families that there was an "on-going failure" by the Government to rectify the complex scheme.



Dismissing the action in London today the judge said the more he had read documents in the case "the more I have appreciated how tragic the consequences have been for the claimants' families of having a member with vCJD".



He added: "Although I am totally sympathetic to their present predicaments my duty is to apply legal principles."



Those principles, he announced, "have driven me to the conclusion that this claim must be dismissed".







During the recent hearing of the action Ian Wise, representing the families, said the scheme's trustees put forward proposals to radically overhaul the scheme in 2006 which were rejected by the Secretary of State in June 2009.

A further decision was made in December, relating to acceptance of the more "modest" proposals put forward by the trustees, but Mr Wise argued that this latest move did not "change matters materially" as it did not "address the concerns of the trustees".



When the scheme was set up, a sum of £67.5 million was set aside for the first 250 cases. It was in part a no-fault lump sum and in part a discretionary scheme to acknowledge the care given to loved ones with the disease.



Mrs McVey said the difficulties of claiming for discretionary payments had compounded the anguish of the families.



Her own claim was settled but she said she wanted to make the process of claiming for just compensation easier for distressed and bereaved families in future.



The case was contested on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health. Leigh-Ann Mulcahy QC had argued that the decision not to consent to the "radical proposal" was "entirely rational".



In written documents before the court she said that, as of November 2009, £38.3 million had been paid out in compensation.



The first victim of vCJD died in 1995 and since then there have been 176 cases in the UK. Four are still alive.



Mr Justice Silber said today: "One of the most disturbing and distressing events of the 1990s was the discovery that many young people were suffering from variant CJD, which is a disease for which there is no known cure.



"The consequences for the victims' families and friends have also been truly tragic with many of them now still suffering from mental illnesses and other adverse effects."



The current rate of new diagnosis was low, he said, with only three cases having been notified to the Secretary of State for Health in 2009, "while one or two cases were notified in 2007 and 2008 respectively".



Mr Justice Silber said: "I am unable to conclude that the decision to reject the radical proposals was irrational or unlawful..."

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