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Hilary Meredith-Beckham

Founder and Director, Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ltd

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This now prolonged litigation is only increasing legal costs on both sides, instead of providing closure for those who need it most

Lariam litigation and the MoD

Opinion
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Lariam litigation and the MoD

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Hilary Meredith-Beckham reviews the MoD’s withdrawal from a settlement meeting

In a further sign of the disregard in which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) holds service, personnel and veterans battling serious health conditions as a result of anti-malarial drug Lariam, the Government Legal Department (GLD) has withdrawn from a long-standing two-day joint settlement meeting (JSM) on the matter. According to MoD figures, a minimum of 17,368 armed forces personnel were prescribed Lariam at least once between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2015. Having been developed in the US following the Vietnam War, Lariam was made available in the UK in 1989 and was quickly adopted by the British Armed Forces as its antimalarial drug of choice. Consumers of Lariam, both inside and outside the forces, soon reported adverse effects of a neuropsychiatric nature leading to regulatory intervention at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the British National Formulary. Soon after Lariam was brought to international markets in late 1980s, users began to experience serious side effects. Yet, over the coming decades, as the drug became implicated in everincreasing acts of unexplained violence, homicide and suicide, the MoD continued to administer Lariam to thousands of unsuspecting troops deployed to some of the world’s most dangerous places.

The withdrawal

Throughout 2022, our specialist Lariam team at Hilary Meredith Solicitors prepared for a JSM with the MoD’s legal team, the GLD, which was due to take place on 15 and 16 December 2022. Our team met all deadlines relating to exchange of key evidence in the lead up to the meeting. The GLD, despite being continually behind, also completed all the necessary steps. Although plans were fully in place for our attendance in person at the meeting in London, just days before, we were informed that the MoD was not prepared to discuss the crucial issue of whether Lariam is capable of causing long-term harm. Simply, they were not prepared to make any concessions and made it clear that unless our claimants (despite the evidence) capitulated and resolved issues in favour of the MoD, settlement was impossible. This was not what they led us to believe over the course of the last 18 months or so. Up until their abrupt withdrawal, we had understood they would be able to enter into meaningful discussions. As we had emphasised, and as they were aware, the purpose of the meeting was to look at the issue of whether Lariam is capable of causing long-term injury and give consideration to a mechanism for settlement of all relevant claims.

Our opinion

The GLD’s approach is yet a further blow to service personnel and veterans who, through no fault of their own, are battling serious health conditions as a result of being prescribed Lariam – which we say is so dangerous that it was used in Guantanamo Bay for pharmacologic waterboarding. As long ago as 2016, the Defence Committee condemned the MoD’s prescription of Lariam as a lamentable weakness in its duty of care to personnel. Giving evidence to the Committee, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans provided a clear statement of support to those members of the armed forces who believed they may have been affected by the inappropriate provision of Lariam. The Committee also requested a similar level of engagement from the government moving forward. We served letters of claim on the MoD in 2017, yet nearly six years on they are unable or unwilling to help suffering soldiers and veterans. Lariam is so toxic it can cross the blood brain barrier, causing long-term effects. Notices on the packaging warn of driving or operating machinery, but this drug was routinely given to armed service personnel driving tanks in war zones. Most drugs have side effects but with Lariam, which can cause severe psychiatric abnormalities, it is essential that the recipient is made aware of the long list of potential symptoms before taking the drug. For decades, the MoD failed to do this. The military’s basic duty of care towards service personnel is to take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable problems, yet they prescribed Lariam without providing the correct advice and support. This now prolonged litigation is only increasing legal costs on both sides instead of providing closure for those who need it most.

Hilary Meredith-Beckham, founder and chair, Hilary Meredith Solicitors: hmsolicitors.co.uk