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Primodos: Pregnancy test drug campaigners lose legal bid for damages

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More than 100 claimants attempting to sue for damage to their babies allegedly caused by Primodos have had their legal challenge struck out.

Their claim was against Bayer, the manufacturer of the pregnancy test drug, and another pharmaceutical company, Sanofi - who had produced a similar product used by fewer women.

The claim was also against the Department of Health for failure to regulate the drug when concerns first emerged about it among the medical community.

Families claim that the hormone-packed pill used to determine whether the woman was pregnant in the 1960s and 70s caused miscarriages, stillbirths or deformities to the babies of many women who were prescribed the drug by their GPs.

But lawyers representing the pharmaceutical companies applied for a strike-out, which essentially asks the court to throw out non-viable claims, before they reach a full court hearing.

Following the strike-out application, the claimants' solicitors withdrew, leaving them with barristers, solicitors and experts working on a pro-bono basis.

This meant lawyers acting for the pharmaceutical companies could argue that the claimants had no lawyers and no funds and hence the claim itself was unrealistic - they couldn't afford to get it to court.

Despite having apologised to the victims of Primodos in July 2020, the government lawyers also backed the strike-out claim, arguing the case alongside lawyers for the manufacturers, that the case was not realistic.

Campaigners 'fought hard' for justice

The government apology came after a scathing review headed by Baroness Cumberlege found that "much anguish, suffering and many ruined lives" were caused by three medical products; vaginal mesh, Valproate and Primodos.

The then health secretary, Matt Hancock, issued a "full apology" agreeing that the affair was a scandal.

Read more:

How the scandal unfolded

'Significant' changes were made to key report

Theresa May said victims were told 'you're imagining it'

Referring to an original legal claim which failed back in 1982, Mrs Justice Jipp said: "I recognise the profound disappointment my judgement will bring for the claimants.

"They believe, and will no doubt continue to believe, that HPTs [hormonal pregnancy tests] were the cause of the birth defects and the loss of the babies which they have suffered.

"No one has been able to confirm definitively that this belief is wrong. The claimants do not believe justice was done in 1982 and they have fought hard to seek justice since.

"While it appeared that the tide was changing in the last decade, developments have not been sustained in a direction that allows them to demonstrate any real change from the position when the earlier test cases were discontinued in 1982."

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Campaigners against Primodos

Limited funding

Referring to the ability of the claimants to get funding for a full legal claim, Mrs Justice Jipp added: "It is now over a year since their former solicitors came off the record.

"They have not been able to secure alternative representation, other than by counsel on a pro bono basis. That arrangement does not cover the conduct of the litigation.

"The claimants have only limited funding... There is no evidence that they are likely to secure the funds necessary to progress their claim."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "We note the court's decision in this case. We cannot comment on other ongoing legal proceedings."

Campaigners and Sky News have in recent years uncovered evidence of a link between the drug and birth defects - including archives in Berlin suggesting the British regulator found there was a significant risk to the foetus, but the materials on which the investigation was based were later destroyed.

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