Godstone Farm E. coli 0157 - Resolution of Cases before the High Court, London
The Godstone Farm E Coli 0157 outbreak in 2009 was the largest outbreak of E Coli 0157 as a result of a visit to a petting farm in the UK.
The Godstone Farm E Coli 0157 outbreak in 2009 was the largest outbreak of E Coli 0157 as a result of a visit to a petting farm in the UK. Some 93 people were proved to have been exposed to the bacteria and very many of those were young children.
E Coli 0157 is a virulent bacteria. Exposure to between just 10 and 100 bacteria can cause illness in humans. This is different to the E Coli that we carry within us and is specific to animals, mainly sheep, goats and cows who are known sporadic shedders of the bacteria. It is a bacteria that is found on farms in particular.
The young children exposed suffered devastating consequences that became apparent over the days following their summer trip to Godstone farm. Of the 93 exposed, 17 went on to develop Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS). This is a very serious illness which can be fatal. The bacteria attacks the kidneys, causing renal failure and then unless carefully managed will go on to cause brain damage and finally death.
Many very young children found themselves on dialysis, gravely ill. Evelina children's hospital in particular was inundated with children who were suffering the very serious effects of exposure to this bacteria.
A legal action was launched in 2010 by law firm Fieldfisher on behalf of the victims and this led to an admission of liability by the farm in January 2011.
Prof George Griffin, professor of infectious diseases at St George's, University of London, led an independent inquiry in June 2010.
The inquiry's report stated that dozens of cases at Godstone could have been prevented if authorities had taken the outbreak more seriously and acted earlier. It noted that the farm itself showed little evidence that it appreciated their vital role in reducing the risk of exposure, something that was particularly surprising given that the farm had suffered an earlier outbreak of E Coli 0157 in 2000.
Godstone Farm was found to be wholly liable for the cases, despite initially claiming that Tanbridge Council and the regional branch of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) had owed the farm and to too its visitors a duty of care.
It was notable that it was accepted that parents had been vigilant in the washing of their children's hands but that alone was not sufficient. The children, given that they were very close to the animals and in the pens feeding the animals would have the bacteria on their shoes and clothes, possibly toys and buggies. Antibacterial hand gels are not sufficient in eradicating 0157 from hands.
Despite the Griffin Inquiry recommending the Registration and establishment of Regulatory Body in respect of Open Farms that has not occurred; this is deeply disappointing to all involved.
The cases before the Court today are to approve the settlements in respect of 10 of the most seriously injured children. All have suffered greatly and all appreciate they carry a lifelong risk that they may suffer further illness and in particular renal failure. Part of the funds being made available now are to allow the children to be reviewed on an annual basis and to look for warning signs of kidney failure.
These awards are made on the basis that they are provisional settlements only. It is accepted that all those before the Court today run a lifelong risk of renal failure in the future. Given the devastating consequences of permanent renal failure it was agreed between the parties that if that should happen, each child has the ability to reopen their case in order to gain access to further funds.
We cannot disclose to you the individual awards on today's cases but we can confirm that the settlements in respect of all the cases that we have handled to date are in excess of £1million. Should the cases have to be reopened then of course the financial exposure will be very much more.
Statement from Parents:
"In the Autumn of 2009, very young children and their families endured for many what was the most frightening and darkest period of their lives following the E. coli 0157 outbreak at Godstone Farm.
Of those infected with this strain of E. coli, many went on to develop Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome and suffered acute renal failure as a result. The weeks that followed were a living nightmare for all. The children were critically ill, frightened and extremely upset by the medical treatment required. Some of the children have been left with significant damage to both kidneys, high blood pressure and a number of other health related issues.
All of this was caused by a Summer's day out to Godstone Farm. As parents, they did not know enough about E. coli 0157 at that time to understand the risks. Godstone Farm, on the other hand, should have been aware of the risks that E. coli 0157 posed to human health; but in our view, and that of the Griffin Inquiry, they failed to implement the necessary safety measures to protect these children.
During the visit to Godstone Farm, these children washed their hands thoroughly and used antibacterial hand gel. Yet this is a dangerous bacteria, the consequences of which are now all too apparent. We now know that hand washing cannot be relied upon as a complete safeguard if E coli 0157 is present.
The parents would like to thank the amazing medical teams that helped to save their children's lives and to their wonderful family and friends for their love and support in what are difficult circumstances."
Fieldfisher Partner Jill Greenfield said:
"The horror of what these children and their families have been through is difficult for anyone to describe. How do you explain to a scared, young child why they having to undergo painful treatments. Every parent only ever wants to do the best for the child. I can see that a day out to a farm is for many seen as a chance to get back to nature, from the rigours of the City and for children to meet and touch animals. But for a day out to end like this is utterly devastating. What angers parents even more is that fact that the farm remained open over the bank holiday weekend, at a time when there was a level of knowledge that E Coli 0157 was around. How tragic that these young children were allowed to skip into this farm completely oblivious to the danger that awaited."