Police to investigate claims of water poisoning cover-up

Allegations of a possible cover-up in the aftermath of Britain's worst water poisoning disaster are to be investigated by police on the orders of a coroner.

The pollution happened in 1988 when 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate was delivered into the wrong tank at the then South West Water Authority water treatment works at Lowermoor on the edge of Bodmin Moor.

Over the years local people complained of a range of health issues, ranging from brain damage and memory loss to joint problems.

The police investigation was ordered yesterday by West Somerset coroner Michael Rose, who opened inquests earlier into the deaths of two women who lived in the Camelford area at the time of the pollution.

One was Carole Cross, 58, who died in 2004 and was the wife of environmental scientist Doug Cross, a member of a Government committee which has been investigating the medical effects of the 1988 incident.

A post mortem examination revealed abnormally high levels of aluminium in Mrs Cross's brain. She suffered from a neurological disease.

Irene Neal, 91, lived in Rock, north Cornwall, at the of the pollution and died in a nursing home in Buckfastleigh, Devon, in June this year.

A brain autopsy on Mrs Neale, whose home was served by the Camelford water system, revealed an "unacceptable amount of aluminium in the brain", said her daughter Pam Melville.

The coroner said extensive pathology and other tests were undertaken by Professor Margaret Esiri at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and by Dr Chris Exley at Keele University, Staffordshire.

The coroner said: "These tests have revealed there may be a connection between at least one of these deaths and the earlier incident."

Mr Cross and another member of the investigating committee, Truro-based homeopath Peter Smith, claimed earlier this week that the Department of Health knew from the start that some people were at especially high risk from aluminium poisoning.

But this crucial evidence was deliberately suppressed to protect the Government's plans for water privatisation, they said.