Inquiry launched into Sellafield body parts

The government has launched an independent inquiry into allegations that body parts were removed from former Sellafield workers without their families’ consent.

Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling made an emergency statement to the Commons today after the GMB union went public with suspicions yesterday that nearly 70 deceased employees have had tissue, bones or other body parts clandestinely removed over a 30 year period.

Mr Darling has appointed Michael Redfern QC to head an independent investigation into the claims. Mr Redfern previously led the report into the removal of organs at Alderhay Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Looking back 45 years, the investigation will establish what procedures were carried out, whether the next of kin were informed and whether they consented for tissues to be removed and examined for radioactivity.

It will also consider whether the data obtained was used appropriately and whether consent was given for its use in further research.

Mr Darling told MPs that no audit trail relates to the 65 cases, meaning it cannot be certain what procedures were followed and prompting the need for an inquiry.

The records held by Sellafield are “limited and medical” and only show what was removed. They do not reveal who asked for the examination, under what authority and for what purpose. They also do not confirm if the next of kin gave consent.

Local Labour MPs, Tony Cunningham and Jamie Reed, have already been told of the allegations and demanded an investigation from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), which owns the Sellafield nuclear plant, has confirmed it began sampling autopsy material in the 1960s and claims the “historic” practice ended in the 1990s.

A BNFL spokesman said it holds files relating to 65 cases and sampling was definitely carried out on 56 relating to inquests of post-mortems.

It is thought that when an unusual death occurred at the plant, a specialist doctor removed tissues for examination. It is not yet clear whether this would have been skin samples or tissues and bones.

The GMB is now calling on the BNFL to clarify what happened to the body parts.

“Our chief concern is for the families of those who died during this period and the anguish they face,” said GMB national officer Gary Smith.

“We need information from the company and we expect a quick reply to clarify what has happened,” he added.