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The Redfern inquiry: the Sellafield body parts scandal

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

As Inquiries into nuclear activities go, the findings of the three-year Inquiry lead by Michael Redfern QC published on November 16, stand out as a refreshingly honest and hard-hitting indictment of the cavalier and unethical practices of harvesting organs from deceased Sellafield workers from the 1960’s to 1992.

Few individuals or organizations directly involved in the removal of an obscene number of organs during coroners’ or hospital post-mortems remain unscathed by the Inquiry, with criticisms leveled at British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL), its predecessor UKAEA, Pathologists and Coroners involved in West Cumbria at the time.

Whilst the long-held suspicions of Sellafield’s ‘Body Parts’ malpractices have been well and truly upheld by the Inquiry, the level of malpractice will have shocked most observers. For the families of the 64 Sellafield worker cases, the Inquiry’s findings may bring some level of closure, but trust in the nuclear industry will have been dented by the extent of the collusion between the authorities involved and the widespread lack of openness and consideration towards the families whose consent for the harvesting of organs was not sought.

Providing the Inquiry with over 40 files containing information relating to Sellafield families, CORE wholeheartedly welcomes the work of Michael Redfern QC and his team whose Inquiry solicitor Stephen Jones had earlier thanked CORE for giving ‘a valuable lead into everything at an early stage’.  The files had been collated by CORE over a number of years from the late 1980’s onwards during the operation of a compensation fund it had organised for Sellafield workers and families.

CORE’s spokeman Martin Forwood said today:

“The families will undoubtedly be experiencing a mixture of relief that the truth of the body-parts scandal has been exposed and dismay that they were so badly let down by those   claiming to have their welfare and best interests at heart. For those at the time grieving the loss of a family member, it is difficult to imagine a more heartless betrayal of trust by those directly involved in the scandal”.

The Inquiry paid significant attention to the role played by Dr Geoffrey Schofield (died 1985) after whom a ‘prestigious’ laboratory is named at the Westlakes Science Park near Whitehaven. As Sellafield’s Chief Medical Officer who analyzed 53 of the 64 former Sellafield workers organs, he was found to have given no consideration to the ethics of his work and to have taken dubious steps to obtain organs in cases that were of particular interest to him. His successor Dr Lawson showed an equal lack of ethical awareness and the work of both remained largely unsupervised by the BNFL Board.

Equally damning is the Inquiry’s finding that all the pathologists involved were not only profoundly ignorant of the law under which they carried out the post-mortems but also that they pandered to BNFL’s needs. In removing organs during post mortems without family consent, they breached the provisions of the Human Issue Act 1961.

Coroners too came in for criticism from the Inquiry for leaving families in the dark, failing often to read post mortem reports, and assisting BNFL, the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) to obtain organs heedless of whether family consent had been obtained.

With its remit widened beyond the former Sellafield worker cases, the practice of organ harvesting at other facilities in the UK was also investigated by the Redfern Inquiry - some 6000 cases in total. As with Sellafield, no family consent had been obtained.

Martin Forwood added:

“We’ve today heard the Government’s apology for these wrongdoings in West Cumbria and elsewhere, and been given assurances that a tightening of laws and regulations will ensure they will not be repeated. We trust that the industry has learned from Michael Redfern’s lesson, and does not revert to type once the dust of his Inquiry has settled”.

Source: CORE Press release, 16 November 2010.
Contact: CORE, Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment.
Tel:  + 44 1229 716523


Body parts were taken without consent from 64 former Sellafield employees and provided for analysis by their employers between 1960 and 1991. Organs were also taken without consent from 12 workers at nuclear sites in Springfields, Capenhurst, Dounreay and Aldermaston to be tested at Sellafield.

The liver was removed in all cases and one or both lungs in all but one incident. Vertebrae, sternum, ribs, lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys and femur were also stripped in the majority of incidents. Brains, tongues, hearts and testes were also taken on the advice of the medical officer at Sellafield.

All the organs were later destroyed.
Independent, 16 November 2010