NUJ meeting demands justice for vCJD victims (originally appearing on


NUJ member Christine Lord launched her book Who Killed My Son? at a special meeting at Headland House on September 9th. Christine’s son Andrew Black died of vCJD – the human strain of so-called ‘Mad Cow Disease’ – at the tender age of 24. Christine vowed to Andrew on his death bed that she would find out how and why he had become infected, and who was to blame.

Her subsequent campaign ( uncovered a shocking level of institutional corruption, incompetence and deceit. Throughout the 1980s, top-ranking politicians continually told the public that British beef was 100% safe, despite having seen overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As Christine puts it herself, ‘They were more interested in protecting the profits of the British beef industry than the safety of the British people.’
At the meeting family members of other victims passed around chilling “before and after” photographs of their loved ones. These showed how, in a matter of months, vCJD can reduce a fit and good-looking 20-year-old to a bald, pale, skeletal invalid who looks closer to 70. As the disease eats away at the victim’s brain, he or she suffers panic attacks, depression, loss of mobility and progressive dementia. There is no cure for vCJD.

The meeting also revealed the political and medical establishment’s mistreatment of victims’ families. Not only is there pervasive ignorance within the NHS about vCJD, but coroners are reluctant to name the disease on death certificates even when all its symptoms are apparent. For this reason, Rose Smith, whose son Billy was repeatedly misdiagnosed before succumbing to vCJD, describes the official UK death toll (176 people since 1990) as ‘not worth the paper it’s written on’.

Relatives are often warned not to speak to the press about their experiences. While Christine was researching her book, she received dozens of anonymous threats.

Shirley Warne, who lost her ultra-fit son Chris in 1997, attended the 2000 BSE Inquiry, during which key evidence was concealed and witnesses were pressured and intimidated into towing the government line. At the end of the inquiry, government scientists celebrated in a less-than-sensitive manner: they cracked open bottles of champagne right in front of Shirley and other grieving relatives.
Although Who Killed My Son? is available as an e-book on Amazon and has just topped Kindle’s political charts, Christine is hoping that a publisher will acquire it and give it wider promotion and distribution. ‘There’s already a buzz,’ she says. ‘This week there have been two features in national papers and I’ve done interviews on BBC radio and TV.’

This may be the breakthrough the campaign needs, as previously the media has dismissed vCJD as an ‘old issue’, to use Christine’s phrase. ‘But in reality,’ she adds, ‘the issue is still very relevant. New cases are being reported, some in people who only started living in the UK after the official ban on meat and bone meal feed in 1996.’ Thus BSE still exists in the UK. In 2011, the Health Protection Agency UK announced that at least 60,000 people could be incubating vCJD. That should worry us all.

Text: Tom Sykes
Photo: Christine Lord
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