Government apology over water poisoning
Victims of Britain's worst mass poisoning, in Cornwall 25 years ago, were yesterday handed an "unreserved apology" from government for the first time.
Health Minister Anna Soubry and Environment Minister Richard Benyon made the official apology, for their department's failings in the aftermath of the incident, in letter to North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson
The Ministers acknowledged that the "the incident was serious and unprecedented" and that the then South West Water Authority "was slow to recognise what had gone wrong and communicate this to the local public health authorities".
They also conceded there had been "a manifest failure to give prompt appropriate advice and information to affected consumers, local journalists and government officials".
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Their letter concluded: "We recognise that there were failings in the response to the incident in 1988. Lessons have been learned, and systems and organisations have been put in place to protect communities now and in the future.
"However, none of this takes away the distress and anguish felt by many of your constituents over the intervening 25 years.
"In light of the findings of the various investigations into the Lowermoor Water incident we, on behalf of Government, unreservedly apologise to your constituents."
The water supply serving 20,000 people living in North Cornwall – from Boscastle down to Port Isaac – was turned into an acidic cocktail of metals after an error at the unmanned Lowermoor water treatment works on Bodmin Moor on July 6, 1988.
After 20 tons of the cleansing chemical aluminium sulphate was dumped directly in the water system, hundreds reported immediate symptoms, from diarrhoea and vomiting to skin rashes and fatigue. Many believe their health has been affected long term.
Campaigners have always suspected that the handling of the incident was influenced by the impending privatisation of the industry.
Last year, West Somerset coroner Michael Rose concluded that there was a "very real possibility" that ingesting the tainted water had contributed to the death of 59-year-old Carole Cross, who died in 2004 from a rare neurological disease usually associated with Alzheimer's.
Mr Rogerson said: "This apology should have come immediately from Ministers responsible in the Conservative government at the time.
"Instead, for 25 years we've seen hedging and buck-passing. It's very welcome that at last Ministers in this coalition Government are prepared to admit that their departments share responsibility for this appalling incident.
"Now we have official clarity that mistakes were made, residents in and around Lowermoor have a right to know who made those mistakes and why.
"Devon and Cornwall Police should now heed the West Somerset Coroner's call for them to re-open their investigation – and they should find no door closed in establishing whether and how a cover-up happened.
"We also wait to hear more about the Government conducing further scientific research, as the Department for Health Lowermoor subgroup report published in April recommended, in relation to long-term health impacts on those who were exposed to the contaminated water."
Former North Cornwall MP, Lord Tyler added: "Many local people will quite rightly never forgive the Conservative ministers who could have set up a full inquiry straight-away, allowing access to communications between them and officials and providing for proper research into the ill-effects of the poisoning on local residents.
"Instead they shuffled their papers and hoped the whole nasty episode would go away."