[2009] EWHC 1944

Corby Council to appeal birth defects judgment

The High Court’s decision in the Corby Group Litigation has recently made national headlines. The judge’s findings that Corby Borough Council (the Council) was liable for allowing toxic substances to be dispersed into the local area during a large site reclamation project may have significant consequences for the reclamation industry.

The Council has now decided to seek permission to appeal the judgment following a special Council meeting on 18 August. An important element of the Council’s proposed appeal will be that it could not have foreseen at the time the damage its reclamation project would cause to unborn children. The Council is also considering mediation with individual claimants.

The case related to allegations brought on behalf of a group of children that they had been exposed to toxic substances during their mothers’ pregnancies. The claimants argued that this exposure led to them suffering birth defects consisting of shortened or missing arms, legs and fi ngers. The claimants’ mothers all lived close to the reclamation site during their pregnancies.

The site at the centre of the case was a large British Steel works, which was purchased by the Council during the 1980s .The site comprised 680 acres in the north corner of Corby. Following acquisition, the Council began a reclamation programme of the site which lasted from 1983 to 1997.

The court found that the contaminants were teratogenic (could affect the development of unborn children). It also found that the Council was in breach of its duty of care to the claimants and liable in public nuisance and in breach of statutory duty for not preventing dispersal of mud and dust contaminants from the site.

The case is important, especially for those involved in the reclamation of brownfield sites. The criticism of the Council’s reclamation techniques will be of concern as certain of these techniques were standard practice at the time.