Published: February 24, 2009
Burnham-On-Sea mother begins legal battle for compensation

A Burnham-On-Sea mother who says her daughter was born disabled because she was exposed to industrial toxins during her pregnancy has this week begun giving evidence at the High Court in London.

Barbara Mallin, from Highbridge Road in Burnham, blames her 22-year-old daughter's birth defects on a huge industrial clean-up operation carried out at a former British Steel works in Corby between 1985 and 1999, in which council bosses sought to transform the Northamptonshire town.

Corby Borough Council said the reclamation project pulled the town into the 21st century, but lawyers for the Mallin family and 17 other claimants are suing for compensation amid claims their birth defects were caused by air that was contaminated by a soup of potentially dangerous pollutants.

Mrs Mallin never lived in Corby, but says she had the misfortune to ingest toxic particles during sporadic visits there during the crucial first stages of her pregnancy in late 1986.

She used to stay with relatives for weekend or four-day stints while her husband was doing wiring work in the area. And she may also have ingested toxins through frequenting Corby's open-air market at the time.

At the High Court, Mrs Mallin said there was dust hanging around the market, which was also festooned with small mounds of orange brown earth.

It was squidgy underfoot because of the red mud, she told the court, and her husband would curse after they visited the market because his car would emerge spattered with red dust.

When driving around the town the roads were also clogged with lorries taking materials from the old steelworks, she told her lawyer, James Wilby, adding: "We had to keep our windows shut because the dust was so bad."

Stephen Grime, for Corby Borough Council, suggested Mrs Mallin may have been mistaken about the precise location of the market "or even if you visited it that year", but she stood by her account.

At one point during her evidence, Mr Justice Akenhead allowed a short pause in the proceedings when the emotion of the moment became too much for Mrs Mallin.

During the short recess her daughter hugged and comforted her before she continued giving evidence. She sat at the back of the court as her mother testified, although she was asked to show the court the extent of her disabilities, displaying the two stunted fingers on her left hand.

Her disabilities had also left her with limited function in her left arm, the court was told earlier.

She is among 18 youngsters, between the ages of nine and 21, suing over alleged exposure to toxic chemicals during the critical early stages of pregnancy.

They were all born with debilitating upper limb disabilities and claim Corby Borough Council was at fault in mishandling the reclamation of a heavily contaminated 680- acre former British Steel works in the town.

One pollution expert said contaminants had gathered in the air like an atmospheric soup of toxic materials, while other witnesses described roads clogged with red mud and lorries covered in a similarly coloured slush.

But Corby insists its clean-up operation was appropriately handled, also denying any link between toxic exposure and the children's birth defects. The case is expected to last 40 days.

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