Article from Sunday Times 18/01/2015
George Arbuthnott and Tim Shipman A PERSONAL appeal by a thalidomide survivor has led David Cameron to ask the German government finally to deliver justice to the victims of the world's biggest drug scandal.
Ever since the birth defects caused by the morning sickness pill were first revealed more than 50 years ago, the British "thalidomiders" have sought compensation from Grünenthal, the drug's German manufacturer.
Now a string of letters from Mark Allen, one of an estimated 10,000 people who suffered deformities caused by the drug globally, has led Cameron to raise the issue with the German government.
Allen, a constituent of the prime minister, has threequarter-length arms and deformed hands. He wrote to Cameron, claiming that evidence had been uncovered that potentially showed the German government was complicit in bringing the criminal trial against Grünenthal to a premature end, resulting in a cursory compensation deal and a gagging order that meant the company could not be prosecuted. His letter added that a legal firm had told the survivors the new evidence represented, in its view, "a prima facie" case of political involvement in the trial and showed secret negotiations, which excluded the victims, had taken place between Grünenthal and the German state.
As a result, he added, the Thalidomide Trust, which represents the 468 remaining UK survivors, is seeking £9m a year in funding from the German government to help cover their medical costs.
The 55-year-old former mechanic from Over Norton in Oxfordshire said he began sending the letters to Cameron at the start of last year. The prime minister has confirmed that he raised the issue with the European parliament and the German authorities on behalf of his constituent.
Downing Street said Cameron would meet Allen to see how he could help further. He was unable to raise the matter with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at their recent London meeting because the agenda was taken up with the terrorist threat.
Senior sources confirmed that the health department and the British embassy had also raised the issue with the German authorities, and that George Freeman, the life sciences minister, would follow suit on an official visit to the German capital next month.
Allen was diagnosed as a thalidomide victim only four years ago, despite being bullied at school and suffering from crippling back pain as a result of his deformities. He believes his mother was in denial about the issue. He said: "I imagine it's very hard to give birth to a deformed baby and think it might be down to yourself. She suffers from Alzheimer's now. I never pursued it with her because she's had to live with this for so long."
In 2009 he sent photographs of his arms and hands to the Thalidomide Trust, which said it was "99% sure" he was a victim, and a specialist later confirmed the diagnosis.
The German government said it did not pay compensation to victims who had not bought the drug from Grünenthal, but was available for talks with the Thalidomide Trust.
Grünenthal said that it could not comment on claims of political involvement in the trial without access to the Thalidomide Trust's evidence, but it insisted the compensation settlement was reached in direct negotiations with the victims alone, and without any state involvement.
The added that it "sincerely regretted" the tragedy.