Judge rules reclamation work in former steel complex in Corby caused babies to be born with underdeveloped fingers and clubbed feet

Reclamation works on a former British steel complex in Corby, Northamptonshire, are to blame for birth defects in 17 children, a judge ruled today.

The case was launched by a group of mothers, on behalf of their children, who had lived in the town or visited the town while pregnant when the reclamation work was being carried out. They later gave birth to children with birth defects such as undeveloped fingers and clubbed feet.

The mothers' claimed against the council, which had taken on the job of the reclamation process, on the grounds of negligence, breach of statutory duty, and public nuisance. They said the land reclamation programme and the presence of poisonous waste presented a significant health risk.

They also claimed the reclamation contracts which continued over 14 years, were so badly managed and materials excavated and transported so unsuitably, that “toxic sludges” blew, leaked and dropped onto roads and surfaces.

The council had denied any exposure to the claimant's mothers of harmful materials capable of causing injuries, and denied it was reasonably foreseeable that the claimants' mothers could have been exposed to substances that could harm them or their unborn children.

But the judge presiding over the trial, which lasted more than three months, ruled today that reclamation works on the site between 1985 and 1999 were capable of leading to some, or all of, the birth defects displayed in the 17 children.

Commenting on the case, Chris Mallender, chief executive of Corby council, said: “We are obviously very disappointed and very surprised at the outcome of this trial. Our position has always been that there was no link between the reclamation work that was carried out in Corby in past decades, and these children's birth defects. That is still our position.

“We recognise mistakes were made and we accept some of the criticism levelled at the council but we have still not seen any evidence to confirm a causal link between the works carried out and the birth defects identified.”