Legionnaires’ disease outbreak: Lawyers of victims demand probe

LAWYERS representing 32 victims of the recent legionella outbreak have demanded the Scottish Government holds a public inquiry into how the bug was able to spread.

• Lawyers acting on behalf of victims demand probe into legionella outbreak in Edinburgh earlier this year

• Three men died in the outbreak in May, and more than 100 people were treated in hospital for the disease

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They say the victims have a right to know what caused the Edinburgh outbreak and how the issue was investigated by ­authorities.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell also wants to find out when the investigation into the source of the bug is likely to end and if the final report is likely to reveal whether any of the organisations which own the six sites being looked at were negligent.

Lawyers say an inquiry would also highlight any lack of co-ordination between the regulatory bodies involved in the investigation and reveal how often the sites, all cooling towers in the west of the city, were maintained and inspected.

Three men died in the outbreak, which began at the end of May. More than 100 other people were treated for Legionnaires’ disease, a number of whom spent weeks in intensive care.

The call comes as figures show the number of inspections by the Health and Safety Executive for legionella bacteria in UK cooling towers has almost halved despite them being a potential source of infection.

Scotland’s leading virus expert Professor Hugh Pennington has already called for a public inquiry to tighten regulations and prevent another outbreak. He believes the outbreak should have been avoided and an inquiry “will save money and future lives”.

Clive Garner, illness expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: “There has been a distinct lack of information published on how the investigations are progressing in Edinburgh or any potential timescales released on when we might receive any news.

“Our clients want answers and we feel now is the time for the Scottish Government to act. A public inquiry is the best possible way to find out what has gone wrong and why, so we can look to learn from this and prevent further outbreaks in ­future.”

Mr Garner, whose firm is representing the families of the men who died as well as a number of others affected by the recent outbreak in Stoke, said victims would be looking for compensation once the source was discovered and a company found to have been negligent.

Prof Pennington has warned of more outbreaks after discovering many cooling towers are being inspected as infrequently as once every ten years.

Scottish Labour has already backed calls for a public inquiry.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Health and Safety Executive is continuing its enquiries and any consideration of a public inquiry would have to wait until their investigations are complete.”