05 August 1997
Minister pressed to end OP "misery"

AGRICULTURE Minister Dr Jack Cunningham came under pressure today to speed up a decision on the future use of pesticides which may be linked to the suicide of Labour MP Gordon McMaster.

The leader of the All-Party group on organophosphates (OPs) has called on Dr Cunningham to end the "misery" of alleged victims, who include farmers and farm-workers.

Keen gardener Mr McMaster, who was found dead last week, believed he was suffering from the chronic fatigue syndrome ME and that it might have been caused by organophosphates which he used as a pesticide. The Paisley South MP was a supporter of the All-Party Group on OP pesticides.

Yesterday, group leader Paul Tyler wrote to Dr Cunningham calling for an urgent meeting on the future use of the chemicals.

Mr Tyler, Liberal Democrat MP for Cornwall North, told the Agriculture Minister: “I hope you will now agree that our meeting is all the more urgent, if only to ensure that our former colleagues commitment to help the victims of OP poisoning is carried on.”

In the letter, Mr Tyler asks Dr Cunningham to comment on a recent trial in Hong Kong where a US musician, Mr Kristan Phillips, was awarded £1.9m for his severe disability caused by exposure to inhalation of the OP Diazinon – after it had been sprayed in his rehearsal room.

Mr Phillips successfully sued Swiss manufacturer Ciba-Geigy after he was left a virtual cripple, with brain, neurological and cardio-vascular damage, and serious psychiatric problems.

The trial was seen as an important test case by lawyers around the world who are trying to win compensation for Gulf-War veterans exposed to OPs in the line of duty, and sheep farmers exposed to OPs in sheep dip, who claim to be afflicted with similar illnesses.

In a press statement, Mr Tyler said: “Every day that Dr Cunninghams decision is delayed increases the misery for hundreds of OP victims and increases the potential cost of compensation.

“Since both sheep farmers and Gulf War troops were forced to use these lethal products by Government instructions, the cost to the taxpayer – not just the manufacturers – could run into many millions of pounds.”

Boyd Champness/PA News