Organs and bones were illegally harvested from the bodies of dead nuclear industry workers at Sellafield without their consent over a period of 30 years, an inquiry found yesterday.
The relatives of 64 staff, many of whom only discovered their loved ones had been stripped of livers, tongues and even legs decades after they were buried, said the inquiry's findings proved the existence of an “old boys' club” among pathologists, coroners and scientists around Sellafield prior to 1992 which prioritised the needs of the nuclear industry above those of grieving family members.
In evidence to inquiry chairman Michael Redfern QC, who oversaw the Alder Hey Hospital inquiry, representatives of the workers said they felt as if bodies had been “mutilated” and treated as “commodities” to assist in research on behalf of the industry to disprove the link between cancers and radiation.
Some missing bones had been replaced with broomsticks for deceased workers' funerals. Mr Redfern said the families had been “wronged”.
“In most cases considered by the inquiry, relatives were let down at the time when they were most vulnerable by those in whom they were entitled to place an absolute trust,” he said.
In the Commons, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne apologised to the families and said the practice had been stopped.
The 650-page report, following a three-year inquiry which also examined three other studies involving the nuclear industry in which 6,500 bodies, including children, were used, said the removal of organs and tissue was “unnecessary and inappropriate” in the majority of the Sellafield cases.
Pathologists who gave evidence were singled out for criticism. They were described as being “profoundly ignorant of the law” and of erroneously believing they could act with “carte blanche to remove tissue and organs for whatever purpose they saw fit”.