Families of the 10 young children most seriously affected by Britain’s worst E. coli farm outbreak were approved settlements today, closing the door on an incident that the parents described as “a living nightmare for all”.
The judgement comes five years after the youngsters were amongst those exposed to E. coli 0157 at Godstone Farm in Surrey – an encounter which caused them all to develop a rare and serious disorder known to cause kidney failure. The families’ claims were approved at the Royal Courts of Justice, in London, bringing the total settlements for the 35 victims represented by law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse to more than £1 million.
It is thought more than 50 children were exposed to the E. coli outbreak at the petting farm in 2009 and most experienced only shortlived abdominal cramps. But the 10 represented yesterday were the worst affected. In what was hailed as “the most important” decision to come out of the hearing, judge Sir Colin Mackay agreed that the settlements were provisional and if any one of the children’s conditions should deteriorate to a level in which they required more compensation, they were entitled to return to court later in life.
The parents said that autumn trips to the zoo, which has admitted liability, ended in the “most frightening and darkest period” of their lives. All 10 children developed haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a disorder that can lead to acute kidney failure. After hearing what the children suffered, Mr Mackay said he could not think of “anything more ghastly” for a child to go through, adding that they had endured a "painful and frightening experience.”
The court heard that eight out of the children had to undergo dialysis for between eight to 35 days, leaving many with physical scars as well as a fear of hospitals, doctors and needles. Three children currently have chronic kidney disease, but it was said that all the children carry with them the risk of developing it later.
Field Fisher Waterhouse partner Jill Greenfield said: “The horror of what these children and their families have been through is difficult for anyone to describe. I can see that a day out to a farm is for many seen as a chance to get back to nature… but for a day out to end like this is utterly devastating.”
She added that it was “tragic that these young children were allowed to skip into this farm completely oblivious to the danger that awaited".
Tracy and Mike Furnell, two of the parents in the court yesterday, said they thought the settlement was satisfactory. Their twins, Aaron and Todd, were just two when exposed to the E. coli. Aaron, who the court heard spent 40 days as an in-patient in hospital, was highlighted as the most extreme case. He had to undergo blood and platelet transfusions and was put on dialysis for 35 days. He now has stage two chronic kidney disease. His father Mike said at the time that the whole episode was “pretty traumatic” for the boys, as well as him and his wife.
In a joint statement, the parents said the weeks that followed the children’s development of HUS was “a nightmare for all.” They added: “The children were critically ill, frightened and extremely upset by the medical treatment required. Some of the children have been left with significant damage to both kidneys, high blood pressure and a number of other health-related issues.”
The exact amount given to the families of the children was not disclosed, but it is understood that amounts varied, depending on the severity of symptoms experienced by each child.