8 December 2000

Success is unlikely in more OP action

By Donald MacPhail

A LAWYER who advised farmers who believed they were poisoned by organophosphate sheep dip to drop a claim for damages says an attempt to revive the action by a Herefordshire based legal company was unlikely to uncover anything new.

In October London solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen told about 25 farmers that a proposed group action was unlikely to succeed.

The firm said it had been unable to find enough evidence to prove a link between OPs and the illness suffered by claimants and advised that further legal aid could not be justified.

Hodge Jones & Allen did say that cases involving acute exposure to OPs may succeed in obtaining damages in the future and that research may yet prove a link between low-level exposure and "dippers flu".

Subsequently the Legal Services Commission, which provides legal aid, wrote to the farmers saying it was ending funding for the action unless it could be persuaded otherwise.

Now lawyers Gabb & Co, from Hay-on-Wye, Powys, believe the action may get further funding and is appealing to the Legal Services Commission.

But Patrick Allen, senior partner with Hodge, Jones & Allen, said his firm had researched the issue extensively.

He said: "I think that it is unlikely that there will be more than what we came up with. If theyve come up with something startling, weve yet to hear of it."

Elisabeth Charles, a partner in Gabb & Co, which is representing around 23 claimants, was optimistic her appeal would convince the commission to fund further investigations.

She said: "We will go to the Legal Services Commission with evidence that we think should form the basis of a claim and hope they will reconsider their decision."

As a secondary argument she will assert that claimants are being denied access to the courts, which could be in contravention of the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Mrs Charles, whose firm covers a rural area, said she has seen first-hand evidence that sheep dippers have been affected by OPs.

No decision is expected from the commission until Jan 31.