THE controversial decision to add fluoride to Hampshire’s tap water WILL be examined by a high court judge, the Daily Echo can reveal.
An application for a judicial review into the plans to fluoridate almost 200,000 homes has been approved because of claims that health chiefs ignored public opinion.
If the legal challenge succeeds, it could ultimately mean the contentious scheme has to be scrapped.
Plans to move towards fluoridation in other parts of the country have already been put’ on hold while health bosses wait to see the outcome of the judicial review.
The case could now be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, before the end of the year.
And Health Secretary Andy Burnham, who was forced to quit as vice-president of the pro-fluoride British Fluoridation Society after being promoted in a Cabinet reshuffle, could be called as an “interested party”. Anti-fluoride campaigners have heralded the decision as a vital step in safeguarding individuals’ rights.
The court bid has been lodged by a Southampton woman Geraldine Milner who is angry because she believes South Central Strategic Health Authority went against the views of residents when it approved the plans earlier this year.
More than 10,000 people submitted their opinions during a public consultation, with 72 per cent of those from people living .in the affected area – covering parts of Southampton, Eastleigh, Tottpn, Netley and Rownhams – saying they were against fluoridation.
In a separate phone survey of 2,000 residents, 38 per cent of people questioned opposed the scheme, compared to 32 per cent in favour of it.
Ms Milner’s lawyers argue that the SHA’s board ignored those views when it unanimously approved fluoridation, which had been requested by Southampton health chiefs as a way to improve the dental health of the city’s youngsters.
Since the decision was made, campaign group Hampshire Against Fluoridation has handed over a petition of more than 15,000 names calling for the government to step in and stop the plans.
The group’s chairman, John Spottiswoode, said the judicial review is not just key for those fighting fluoride in Southampton, but is essential for the future of the right of the individual to choose how they are medicated.
“It’s extremely important, because it addresses a major issue of law for the whole country that has to be resolved,” he said.
“It’s something we must win, because if we lose we lose this fundamental right to control what goes into our bodies.”
Sean Humber, a partner at Leigh Day and Co Solicitors, who are representing Ms Milner, said the challenge is a serious one. Cuttings from the Daily Echo, quoting Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the issue when he said the decision must rest with local people, will be used as part of the evidence.
Mr Humber said: “The judge has said it raises, in stark form, a significant public law question,” he said.
“We’re pleased by the judge’s comments – he has basically said there are questions to answer, and it will be interesting to know what they will say. It proves this is not a frivolous or vexatious claim, as has been suggested.”
The second part of Ms Milner’s application, which argued the SHA had not paid full attention to the arguments against fluoridation, was rejected. The judge said the rest of the process was “unimpeachable”, but Leigh Day have lodged an appeal against that decision, that will be held in October.
• The Daily Echo has backed calls for the 200,000 Hampshire residents affected by the fluoridation plans to be given a referendum on the subject.
Campaigners, including several of the county’s MPs, have argued that the public must be given a straight choice on the issue.
The move comes because many feel that the majority voice was ignored when South Central Strategic Health Authority gave fluoridation the green light, and a referendum is the simplest way to ensure the public will is upheld.
• Daily Echo Comment – see page 12
South Central Strategic Health Authority
SOUTH Central Strategic Health Authority has always insisted it did everything it was legally required to during the public consultation into the fluoridation of Hampshire water supplies.
The body says it met or exceeded all of its statutory requirements by sending out leaflets to most affected areas, holding drop-in information sessions, and three Question Time-style debate sessions where experts from both sides gave arguments for and against.
The SHA was unavailable to comment on the judicial review application being approved, but it has previously said it has set aside £400,000 to fight the legal challenge to its decision.
It is not known if the SHA will appeal against the judge’s move to accept the application, but it argues that the legislation it followed required it to canvass public opinion and have regard to it, but ultimately to look at the scientific evidence and what people’s views were based on.