Campaign to extend grant for baby-drug victims

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A LEADING Yorkshire Thalidomide campaigner is stepping up his fight for a three-year government grant paid to British survivors of the “wonder drug” to be made permanent.

In 2009, the Department of Health agreed to pay £26.4m, spread over three years, to the Thalidomide Trust, which administered the money to the surviving British victims – the number of which currently stands at 470, five of whom are living around Harrogate and Knaresborough.

Now Thalidomide victim Guy Tweedy, from Harrogate, who earlier this year helped secure the release of fellow Yorkshire victim Billy Burton halfway through a 40-year sentence in a Philippines jail for trying to smuggle 12lb of marijuana out of the country, is spearheading a campaign for the grant to continue until the last survivor dies.

Mr Tweedy is campaigning alongside the Mansfield MP Alan Meale, who has put forward an early day motion calling for the grant to continue, which to date has been signed by 153 MPs from all parties.

Earlier this month, he attended a meeting with the Health Minister Paul Burstow, arranged by the Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke.

The drug – prescribed to pregnant women as a cure for morning sickness – was withdrawn in May 1962 after it was linked to crippling side effects in newborn babies.

A least 1,000 were born with deformities brought about directly by Thalidomide, and more than half of them died within their first year. An unknown number also died in the womb.

Mr Tweedy, 50, who has a shortened left arm and deformed fingers on both hands, said: “Thalidomide was not an act of God. It was a man-made disaster.

“For seven months leading up to the drug being withdrawn, UK government officials had been given compelling evidence that it was responsible for a large number of babies being born with horrific birth defects.

“I count myself one of the lucky ones, and feel humbled that I can fight for those whose deformities are far worse than mine.

“When this grant was initially awarded in 2009, we knew it was only for three years. However, at the time we were told that it might be extended into the future.”