THE talking is over, but the waiting goes on.
A High Court judge has said it will be weeks before he reveals whether the decision to add fluoride to water supplies in Hampshire was legal.
After two days of legal sparring at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, health bosses and anti-fluoridation campaigners now face an anxious wait to find out if either side has landed a knockout blow.
Deferring his judgement, Mr Justice Edward Holman admitted he had “no idea” how long it might take to reach his conclusions, but warned it would be “measured in weeks, not days”.
Yesterday, the court heard arguments from barristers for South Central Strategic Health Authority and the Government, saying the decision to approve fluoride was legally correct.
Southampton mum-of-three Gerri Milner has brought the judicial review, arguing the SHA should not have ignored public opposition to the scheme, and that it failed to properly evaluate arguments against it.
Speaking after the hearing, she last night hinted she would be prepared to take her legal battle further if the ruling goes against her.
But in reality, every day that passes makes the prospect of the chemical being added to the tap water of nearly 200,000 people in Southampton, Eastleigh, Totton, Netley and Rownhams less likely.
The Government is scrapping SHAs by spring of next year, with responsibility for fluoridation passing to local councils.
Southampton City and Hampshire County councils both say the existing scheme should not go ahead.
As revealed this week by the Daily Echo, if the SHA, which set aside £400,000 to fight this legal challenge, is successful and – as it has vowed to – presses ahead with the scheme, the authorities’ leaders say they will urge the Government to step in to stop it.
In court yesterday, John Howell, for the SHA, insisted board members had properly assessed arguments against fluoridating water, including those from campaigners, the county council and local MPs.
Mr Howell also argued there was no way the board’s decision could be ruled invalid because of statements by ministers that fluoridation would only ever happen with public support.
Mr Howell said: “It’s not for the SHA to try to look for Government statements to see if they’re consistent or not.
“There’s plainly no legal obligation on the SHA to have regard to the ministerial statements.”
James Eadie, representing the Secretary of State for Health, added that public opposition was only one factor the SHA had to consider when choosing whether or not to approve fluoridation.
He said: “The SHA has got to do the analysis, and if it concludes that the health arguments do outweigh all other factors, it makes the request (forcing a water company to add fluoride).”
Mr Eadie also argued that statements made by ministers did not change Government policy.
He said: “All that is important is what Parliament ultimately does, and what it says in the legislation.”
Speaking afterwards, Ms Milner said she would be “overwhelmed” if her case wins, but added: “If it’s not overturned I’m assured I’m going to be back and forth to these things for a while.”