Historic Agreement Secures Financial Future for Thalidomide Survivors

8 December 2005


Diageo plc

Joint Press Release issued by: Diageo plc; Thalidomide UK and the Thalidomide Trust, National Advisory Council;


Diageo plc has agreed a new financial settlement for those affected by the drug.

This historic agreement has been reached between Diageo plc, the Thalidomide Trust's National Advisory Council (NAC), and Thalidomide UK, all of whom recognised that existing resources supporting survivors of thalidomide were unlikely to be sufficient to meet their continuing needs in the coming years. All parties believe that this agreement will be full and final.

Thalidomide was originally distributed in the UK under licence by the pharmaceutical subsidiary of the Distillers Company. It was withdrawn in 1961 when the side effects for pregnant women were discovered.

In 1986, Guinness (a predecessor company of Diageo) acquired the Distillers Company. Diageo plc currently makes an annual payment of £2.8 million to the Trust and in 2005; an additional special contribution of £4.4 million was made. Under the terms of the agreement, the future annual payment will increase to around £6.5 million per annum under a covenant payable over the period to 2037. This amount will be index-linked.

This will enable the Thalidomide Trust - the charitable body that provides ongoing support to Thalidomide survivors - to gradually and significantly increase its annual payments to its beneficiaries and ensure that they will have financial security for the rest of their lives. In conjunction with this settlement, Diageo is giving one-year's notice that no further direct individual claims against Distillers or Diageo will be considered after 31 December 2006.


Thalidomide UK President:

Freddie Astbury


'After 13 years of campaigning which included a hunger strike to highlight the plight of the Thalidomide beneficiaries who were facing an uncertain future due to inadequate trust funds available, Thalidomide UK is extremely pleased and relieved to have finally reached this agreement. Diageo is to be commended for its positive approach and recognition of need that has brought about this agreement, and we feel vindicated in respect of the just struggle maintained on behalf of those afflicted so long by this drug.

The objects set out in the settlement will alleviate many of our concerns in that it establishes a securer future for us all.

We are delighted Diageo have recognised the further necessity for much needed funding and we commend its long-term commitment to Thalidomide beneficiaries.'

Lord Blyth, Chairman of Diageo plc, said:

'We very much regret the thalidomide tragedy which happened 44 years ago. The suffering and hurt of those affected has troubled us all. We are very pleased that this agreement has been reached after a process of very constructive negotiation with the representatives of the Thalidomide survivors’ community.

We acknowledge the efforts of all those involved in recent discussions to bring this matter to a mutually agreed conclusion'

Thalidomide UK, Diageo and the trust will review the agreement this year 2011.



 (By Founder & President)


Diageo plc has agreed a new financial settlement for those affected by the drug.


This historic agreement has been reached between Diageo plc, Thalidomide UK, and the Thalidomide Trust’s National Advisory Council (NAC), all of whom recognised that existing resources supporting survivors of thalidomide were unlikely to be sufficient to meet their continuing needs in the coming years. All parties believe that this agreement will be full and final.

Please view the Joint Press Release which was agreed by Diageo plc; Thalidomide UK and the National Advisory Council by clicking HERE

Freddie Astbury thalidomider Thalidomide Action Group UK (Thalidomide UK) in December 1993; their aims were to campaign for extra funds from the new owners of Distillers Guinness (Diageo) and the British government. The extra funding would help us all in providing for our future needs, including health care. In February 1994 fellow thalidomiders Gary Skyner, Kim Morton Mark Bond joined the group to form the original committee. 


We knew that our health was rapidly deteriorating, because of the extra wear and tear on our muscles, relating to their disabilities and their special needs would become far greater, the older they got.

We knew, because the thalidomide tragedy happened a long time ago, that it was old news, and that it would be hard to get the press and the public interested. We knew then that it was going to be a hard fight and that we would have to do something drastic to get them all interested.

The 1993 Campaign 


Freddie Astbury announced to the press that he was going on hunger strike on Christmas Eve 1993, to highlight the campaign. Freddie and Gary Skyner appeared on the Richard and Judy British TV programme ‘This Morning’, were they met Junior Barrister Jacqueline Perry who helped them with the campaign. Freddie announced on the programme that he was hunger strike. They explained to Richard and Judy that because we were getting older and that our health was rapidly deteriorating and that we would need more financial assistance.  We then highlighted to the press that we were never expected to live as long as forecasted. In the 60s, many doctors had never been faced with a disability like thalidomide and not knowing the full extent of the disabilities. What made things worse for the doctors they never knew then why these babies had been born with the deformities. All these problems would only make the lawyer’s job harder when it came to trying to work out had the level of money that would be needed to provide for our needs in the future. The Lawyers had never been faced with such a claim were they were so many children involved and not knowing the amount of more cases that would come forward? 

Like many countries, the British legal system had never faced with such large claims for damagers, until the thalidomide tragedy. The courts did not know how to compensate some children that had been damaged by the drug on such a large class action. The parents of the victims where forced to settle out of court, because they were a lack of financial support (legal aid) to carry on with the legal battle. It is because of the above reasons that the settlement was totally inadequate.


When Freddie was on hunger strike, he had a visit from Christopher Davidson (Guinness), who promised to do everything possible for his company to help the thalidomiders in the UK.

On the 4th May 1995, Distillers agreed to donate £2.5M for the next fifteen years 1995 to 2009 to The Thalidomide Trust, which supports the thalidomide survivors financially. Though we welcomed the extra funding from Guinness (Distillers), we were still seemed optimistic about the agreement. Thalidomide UK was not in the position to refuse the extra funding, because it was in the form of a donation plus the deal was made behind our back through the trustees and Guinness. We did not know whether how or if it would benefit the thalidomiders, because only time would tell.

The 2000 Campaign

In 2000, Thalidomide UK decided to launch a Second campaign, because they had proof that the thalidomiders health was rapidly deteriorating and that more monies were needed for support them. We soon learnt that in December of 1997 GrandMet and Guinness merged becoming Diageo.

Thalidomide UK was joined on the campaign by celebrities, which included form the world of pop music Westlife, Ronan Keating and sport Michael Owen, Prince Naseem in calling for a boycott against Diageo plc, until they stood up to their morale obligations with thalidomiders. In Scotland, thalidomide UK was joined SMP’s (Scottish Members of Parliament), which was harming Distillers more. I had been asked by the Scottish National Party to speak at their conference, which would have been seen by millions of TV viewers. A week before the conference while on holiday I had received a phone call from Neil Buckland (director of the thalidomide trust) saying that a request for us to halt the campaign had come from Lord Griffiths, because a settlement was near.

On the 1st June 2000, Diageo PLC agrees to extend the company’s payments to the Trust of £2.5 million per year beyond 2009, up to the year 2022. Diageo also agreed to index link this payment from April 2000 in line with the annual increase in the UK Retail Price Index. However once again though we welcomed the extra funding from Guinness (Distillers) we were still seemed optimistic about the agreement. Thalidomide UK was not in the position to refuse the extra funding, because it was in the form of a donation plus the deal was made behind our back through the trustees and Guinness. We did not know whether how or if it would benefit the thalidomiders, because only time would tell.

Over the last ten years thalidomide UK has managed to get an extra £42 million, which will into our fund. It was agreed that the majority of money would be paid over minimum of fifteen years. We were not the only ones responsible for getting the extra funding our trustees were negotiating behind the scenes with the relevant people.

We accept compared to the level of compensations paid today our amount of settlements were low, because it has to share out among 450 survivors.

Our fight will continue until Distillers (Diageo) stands up to their moral obligation all we want is to be able to live comfortable lives. The only way Distillers can stop future campaigns is by involving the thalidomiders themselves when a negation takes place regarding offers of monies.


29 February, 2000

CAMPAIGNING: Freddie Astbury




Stars yesterday threw their weight behind a campaign demanding a fairer deal for the victims of thalidomide.

They urged a boycott of products made by the Distillers group - the company behind the drug given to pregnant mothers, which produced such tragic results - in a new battle to win better compensation.

Footballers Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp and Paul Ince and world featherweight boxing champion Prince Naseem have pledged their support. The boycott will target Guinness products, Bell's whisky, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Burger King, all owned by the Diageo company.


There are 456 surviving British victims whose mothers took the drug designed to reduce morning sickness. It resulted in them being born with stunted or missing limbs. They say a "no blame" compensation fund set up by Distillers in 1973 is now hopelessly inadequate for their needs. The boycott was announced yesterday by victim Freddie Astbury, 40, who is chairperson of victims' group Thalidomide UK.

Mr Astbury, who was born without arms or legs, said: "The company is not doing enough to help victims." Liverpool and England star Michael

Owen said: "I fully support the thalidomide victims' fight for justice. I urge the general public not to buy the following items until the company that damaged these people pays them proper compensation." He then went on to name Bell's whisky, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Guinness and Burger King. Thalidomide UK said that more products could be targeted if the company dismisses the compensation claims.

Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler pledged his support for the boycott in a video and the other sports stars provided written statements. The thalidomide parent company, Diageo, was formed after mergers between Distillers, who marketed the drug, and Grand Metropolitan. Senior management representatives from Diageo met Mr Astbury yesterday in London to discuss the claims for better compensation.


Diageo spokesperson, Murray Loake, said later: "We are surprised that a boycott has been announced when we undertook to consider all the points that have been made by Mr Astbury.

"It does seem a bit strange they would do that when we have promised to consider what was said. We hope we can provide an answer in a matter of weeks." He added: "In 1995 the company decided to make a further contribution of £37.5million to the trust fund set up for the victims in 1973."

The thalidomide scandal dates back to the Fifties and Sixties. An estimated 12,000 babies worldwide were born with defects linked to the drug developed by a German pharmaceutical company.


In 1973, without any admission of liability, Guinness set up a £19million trust fund for the victims that were approved by the High Court where damages claims on behalf of hundreds had been lodged.

The court set the levels of compensation, which range from between £1,000 to £26,000 a year. The top level of payments goes to victims who were born without limbs or with serious damage to internal organs. Mr Astbury quoted the case of a 38-year-old who has no outward physical defects but has had 124 operations to try to correct internal abnormalities linked to the drug.


Five years ago the trustees of the Thalidomide Fund, which uses investment income to pass on to the victims, warned that there might not be enough money to keep making payments for their lifetimes. The company agreed to pay in an extra £2.5million a year for 15 years to meet the shortfall. Neil Buckland, director of the trust, which is based in St Neots, Cambs, said yesterday: "The last annual report said it was hoped to maintain the current level of payments."

None of the trustees is a thalidomide victim. However, they do sit on the National Advisory Council, which meets twice a year to discuss the work of the trust, and the thalidomide members are elected by the other trust beneficiaries.


Mr Astbury, said: "We want to see an increase in the payments. One of the scandals is that we have to pay tax at 34 per cent on the compensation we get. Someone who is getting £12,000 a year, and that would be someone born without arms, ends up with just £7,000 after tax.

"What sort of government is it that takes money from disabled people?" He added: "When the trust fund was set up in the Seventies everybody assumed we would die young because of our disabilities.

But in fact, there is no real reason why we should not live a normal lifespan.

"Most of us are in our forties but because the deformities are so severe the extra wear and tear means we have the bodies of 70-year-olds."

About 200 of the 456 British victims have become parents but one of the fears is that the drug may have damaged them genetically and the fault could be passed on to their children.


Thalidomide UK also claims that medical monitoring of the victims shows that in the past 10 years more than one third have been struck down by other illnesses linked to the original damage caused by the drug.

Thalidomide, marketed as Distaval in Britain, was hailed as the wonder drug of the Fifties. It was a sedative and sleeping pill that banished morning sickness for thousands of young mothers. But the German-developed pill was banned in 1961 when there was overwhelming evidence that it was causing deformities in babies.


The Government, which was also sued at the time for allowing the drug to be sold, contributed £5million to the trust and in 1996 paid an extra £7million. But Thalidomide UK argues the Government has recovered all that money by taxing the payments.

Thalidomide is still used, but not on pregnant women. Research has shown it can be highly effective in treating a fatal form of bone cancer. It is also used to gain relief from a variety of diseases including HIV and rheumatoid arthritis.

© Express Newspapers, 2000