Cumbria

Sellafield body parts families given government apology

Sellafield
Image caption Most of the organs were taken from Sellafield workers

The government has apologised to the families of dead nuclear workers whose body parts were taken for testing without their knowledge.

The Redfern Inquiry was ordered when it emerged in 2007 that tissue was taken from 65 workers at Sellafield in Cumbria between 1962 and 1992.

Publishing the report, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said it was "regrettable" that organs were taken.

Families said they needed time to fully digest the 640-page report.

The inquiry highlighted "unacceptable working practices within the nuclear industry, NHS pathology services and the coronial service" and concluded that families' views were not always obtained as required under the Human Tissue Act 1961.

Mr Huhne told the Commons the inquiry found there was a "lack of ethical consideration of the implications of the research work" carried out by the nuclear industry.

He expressed his "heartfelt regret" and apologies to the relatives of those involved.

Michael Redfern QC was initially asked by the government to look at reported cases involving people who were mainly employed at Sellafield.

The terms of reference were later widened to look at cases from 1955 to the present day concerning the removal of organs and tissue "from individuals at NHS or other facilities".

The employees' organs were analysed for contents of radionuclide - an unstable form of an element that can decay and give off radiation.

Mr Huhne said that in addition to organs taken from Sellafield workers, organs from 12 staff at other nuclear sites at Springfields, Capenhurst, Dounreay and Aldermaston were also analysed at, or at the request of, Sellafield - giving a total of 76.

An "extraordinary range" of organs were removed to gauge any effects of radiation, the report concluded.

The liver was removed in all cases and one or both lungs in all but one. Vertebrae, sternums, ribs, lymph nodes, spleens, kidneys and femurs were also stripped in the majority of cases.

Brains, tongues, hearts and testes were also taken on the advice of the medical officer at Sellafield. All the organs were later destroyed.

Mr Huhne told MPs: "The report highlights unacceptable working practices within the nuclear industry, NHS pathology services and the coronial service.

"It acknowledges that these events occurred a number of decades ago and that many of the issues raised by the inquiry have since been addressed by changes to the law."

The report also found that organs from a small number of former Ministry of Defence employees were removed for analysis.

Mr Huhne added: "It has been difficult to establish the legality of a minority of these removals."

He said the inquiry found that "families' views about organ retention were not always sought, and that very few families knew that organs were taken for analysis".

He stressed the government had "learned from the mistakes of the past" and had put in place measures ensuring similar organ removals could not happen.

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Media captionChris Huhne: "There is no time limit on grief nor on apologies"

The report said the majority of the post-mortem examinations were undertaken by pathologists at West Cumberland Hospital as part of an "informal arrangement" whereby the Sellafield medical officer would be notified.

Once stripped, organs were taken by car in a coolbox to Sellafield.

In a statement, Sellafield Ltd said: "We regret any distress caused to the families and want to make clear that practices of the type outlined in the report ceased at Sellafield nearly 20 years ago.

"The report is a serious document containing large amounts of information, much of which has been previously unavailable to us. It is therefore appropriate that we now take time to fully review the report and give proper consideration to its findings."

Broomstick handles

Mr Redfern said it was the view of the families that the bodies were treated as a "commodity".

Bones were even replaced with broomstick handles so no-one would become suspicious at the funerals.

He concluded that the relationship between pathologists, coroners and Sellafield medical officers "became too close" with failures to adhere to professional standards.

He said: "The blame lies mainly at the door of pathologists who performed the post-mortem examinations. Ignorant of the law, they removed organs for analysis without satisfying themselves that the relatives' consent had been obtained.

"Relatives were seldom asked for their consent. As a result, families buried or cremated incomplete bodies and many of those who have discovered the truth, years later, have been greatly distressed."

Angela Christie, whose father's organs were removed for testing in 1971, said she was unsure whether justice had been done to grieving families.

Mrs Christie, from Arlecdon, near Frizington, said: "I need time to read the report properly and take advice and talk to the family."

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