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Anxiously waiting for Judgment Day

AS ONE of the longest civil cases in British legal history draws to a close at the High Court, the plaintiffs are desperately hoping that the judge involved will not peg out before judgment is passed later this year, probably in October. As it happens, His Honour Mr Justice French is in fine fettle.

Two families living near Sellafield are suing British Nuclear Fuels Ltd for pounds 275,000 after their respective daughters contracted childhood cancers. The families contend that the cancers were caused by overdoses of radiation damaging the women's fathers' sperm while the men worked at the plant.

Before the case started last October, the solicitors for the plaintiffs, Leigh, Day and Co, investigated the possibility of insuring the life of Mr Justice French for a six-figure sum. Their fear being that the judge, who is 67 years old, might die before judgment was passed, which would then force a retrial.

Were this to happen, their share of the costs of the initial trial - which has been running for six months and is likely to cost more than pounds 250,000 - would have to be met from any damages won and this could wipe out any benefit to the families.

Sadly, the cost of insuring Mr Justice French's life was put at around pounds 10,000 and the Legal Aid Board declined to foot the bill. Now all the plaintiffs can do is to wish the judge the best of health. As one insider at Leigh, Day and Co put it: 'Death comes to us all, but hopefully not to the judge before judgment is passed.'

YOU REMEMBER that unfortunate hiccup when confidential government papers proposing possible social security cuts of up to pounds 5bn were faxed by mistake to the Press Association. Apparently someone pressed the wrong button on the machine. Well, now the Department of Social Security is being circulated with a special guidance note: the art of safe faxing.

Nose for a problem

IT'S A rotten job but someone's got to do it. This week Yorkshire Water is paying volunteers in Scarborough to sniff the air to see whether its sewage plant is smelly or not.

For years local residents have complained that a noxious odour of bad eggs, emanating from the Scalby Mills plant, hangs over the seaside town. In November, Yorkshire Water was fined pounds 8,000 for allowing foul smells to pollute the atmosphere. Now the company has installed a pounds 2.3m odour-control system which it believes has solved the problem. This week volunteers are being paid pounds 5 a session to press their noses against an array of nozzles pumping out fresh air and odour- controlled air to see if they can detect any difference.

Meanwhile, many locals remain sceptical. Barrie Milner, chairman of the Scalby Mills residents' association, promises that they will shortly be doing their own atmospheric testing - without the aid of Yorkshire Water's sniffing apparatus - and Freddie Drabble, leader of a local environmental group, the Sons of Neptune, is appealing to people 'not to indulge in Yorkshire Water's farce and make themselves look silly'.

OUR MAN in Istanbul, Hugh Pope, recently dispatched via DHL, the couriers, some film of the plight of Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan. Unfortunately, en route, somebody seems to have misrouted the package elsewhere. What our chaps on the picture desk received was a black, hardly worn, girdle being returned to Gossard with some problem with 'the elastics'.

Qualified praise JAMES WALTON, reviewing a novel by Torgny Lindgren in the current issue of the Tablet, the Catholic weekly, writes: 'In an unashamed attempt to be quoted on the cover of the paperback, let me end on a positive note: Light is the best Christian existentialist fable by a Swede that I have read this year.'

SPOTTED in a self-service restaurant in Edinburgh the other day - a bemused, leather-clad, young German motorcyclist trying to return a wedge of black pudding he'd mistaken for a slice of pumpernickel bread.


25 June, 1884 Marie Bashkitseff, aged 24, writes in her journal: 'How many characters have I been in turn in my childish imagination] First I was a dancer - a famous dancer - worshipped by all St Petersburg. Then I was the most famous prima donna in the world; I sang and accompanied myself on the harp. Then I electrified the people by my eloquence. The Emperor of Russia married me, that he might be able to maintain himself on his throne. I explained my political views to them in my speeches, and both people and sovereign were moved to tears. And then I was in love. When my lovers died I consoled myself, but when they proved false to me I fell into despair and finally died of grief. In short, I have pictured every human feeling, every earthly pleasure to myself as superior to the reality, and if my dreams are to remain forever unrealised, it is better that I should die.'