Merseyside Thalidomide campaigner, Gary Skyner, has branded the Government’s long-awaited apology to fellow victims as ‘disgusting’ as Health Minister Mike O’Brien failed to say ‘sorry’.
In a statement to MPs yesterday, the minister apologised for the Thalidomide scandal expressing “sincere regret” and “deep sympathy” to those affected by the drug, but angered sufferers by missing out the important word.
Liverpool Thalidomider, Gary Skyner, wasn’t impressed. He said: “It’s disgusting, it’s dreadful. It doesn’t go far enough. He skirts around the real words that he should have used. He won’t say sorry.
“What I want him to do is say, ‘sorry, we hold our hands up, we made a mistake’ and take the burden off people like my mother who carries the guilt around with her every day for taking a pill in good faith. I’m very annoyed," said the 50-year-old.
In his statement, which comes 50 years after the tragedy, Mr O’Brien said: “The government wishes to express its sincere regret and deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected.
“We acknowledge both the physical hardship and the emotional difficulties that have faced both the children affected and their families as a result of this drug, and the challenges that many continue to endure often on a daily basis."
Gary, who has no thumbs, wrists or elbows, added: “The way I like to look at it is if you bump into someone in a pub and spill their pint you say ‘sorry, my fault, I’ll buy you another’. You don’t say ‘that fills me with deep regret’.
“It’s a simple word and the reason he’s not used it is because of the wider implications. If he says sorry then the Government is accepting responsibility and taking the blame. It would have meant a whole lot more if he had used the word sorry.”
For decades, victims have been pushing for the Government to accept responsibility for the tragedy that saw around 10,000 babies born with deformities because of the Thalidomide drug being administered to pregnant women for morning sickness.
In the 50s and 60s many babies died within months of birth and life expectancy was dramatically reduced, although there are still 456 Thalidomiders living with their disabilities in the UK today.
The drug was withdrawn from the NHS in 1961, four years after its introduction, when it was found to be the cause of the disfigurements.
Gary and his mother Frances, 73, recently went on hunger strike to make the Government address the issue and to gain more funding for people like him.
Now, along with a formal apology, the Government has allocated £20m to The Thalidomide Trust to continue the support of victims and their families.
Gary feels his team of local campaigners, which includes famous comedy actor Ricky Tomlinson, has been the driving force behind achieving this outcome.
He said: “It was a Merseyside affair. We cracked the issue. We brought in a major celebrity and put a 73-year-old woman on hunger strike and made an impact. I’m finished with it now though, I’m very annoyed.”
Although some have criticised the move by the Government to make amends, it was better received by other groups.
Guy Tweedy, of the Thalidomide Trust is “highly delighted” with the apology and believes it “means as much in some ways as the money". He said: "It's an apology not just to thalidomide victims but to the parents who lost their children in the early days."
Campaign group, Thalidomide UK, also welcomed the move, but shared Gary’s anger over the phrasing of Mr O’Brien’s statement. Freddie Astbury, president of the campaign group, said: "As the song says, sorry seems to be the hardest word. It wasn't really an apology; it was a wave of regret."
By Louisa Collington, Website Editor
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Gary Skyner went on hunger strike last year; YouTube: MP Mike O'Brien's statement on Thalidomide