Thalidomide victims seeking payout

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Thalidomide victims have mounted a new bid for compensation from the drug's manufacturer and distributor more than 50 years after they were born deformed.

Papers have been filed at the High Court on behalf of eight people whose mothers took the anti-morning sickness drug when pregnant in the late 1950s and early 1960s, law firm Slater & Gordon said.

They are seeking compensation from the drug's German maker Grunenthal and Diageo, which now owns the drug's UK distributor, Distillers Co (Biochemicals).

Lorry driver Brian Davies, 53, from Gwynedd, Wales, who was left with deformed feet, is one of those seeking compensation, having been refused under a 1970s plan because his arms were not affected.

The father-of-two said: "It's a disgrace that so many people have been denied justice in this way.

"In my eyes it was simply the drug companies looking to save money and ignoring the duty of care they have to people whose lives they have ruined.

"Ever since I was a child I have missed out on everyday pleasures, like playing football with friends or swimming, things other people take for granted.

"Everyday I am in pain and every day is a struggle. I hope that now we finally get the justice that we have been demanding for so many years."

Between 1958 and 1961 the drug Thalidomide was used by expectant mothers to control symptoms of morning sickness.

It was originally prescribed as a "wonder drug'' for morning sickness, headaches, coughs, insomnia and colds.

Thalidomide babies often suffered missing or deformed limbs and extreme shortening of arms and legs, but the drug also caused malformations of the eyes and ears, genitals, heart, kidneys and digestive tract.

By the time safety fears led to it being pulled from sale thousands of babies worldwide had been affected.

According to survivors' charity Thalidomide UK there are still 455 victims in the UK but it is estimated around 40% of victims died before their first birthday.

In 2012 Grunenthal apologised for the drug for the first time, with chief executive Harald Stock saying "we have been silent and we are very sorry for that".

Last year Diageo paid 89 million Australian dollars (£49 million) to just over 100 further Australians damaged by the drug, in a deal which led to a claim against Grunenthal being discontinued.

Slater & Gordon lawyer Fraser Whitehead said: "Grunenthal and Distillers have always claimed that the thalidomide disaster was an unavoidable tragedy and that they did everything expected of drug
companies at the time. Our research has demonstrated that is nonsense.

"Both companies knew their drug was causing severe nerve damage and both were explicitly warned of the possibility thalidomide might cause severe malformations. Yet the drug was left on the market for many months afterwards.

"It is time those responsible are finally held to account for the mistakes of the past. Grunenthal, in particular, has done little make good the immense damage that it has done and it has to accept responsibility for those affected in the UK."

A Grunenthal spokesman said: "Grunenthal confirms that the company received an email from Slater & Gordon today, announcing that they have been instructed to bring proceedings on behalf of eight claimants.

"Grunenthal has not seen the claims to which they refer and is, therefore, not in a position to comment further."

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