31/08/2012 15:52 BST | Updated 31/10/2012 05:12 GMT

British Thalidomide Charity Rebuffs Grunenthal Group's Apology

A British charity has rebuffed the first apology for half a century from the German company which invented birth defect pregnancy drug Thalidomide.

The Grunenthal Group said in a statement on its website that it "regrets" the consequences of the drug. Thalidomide was used to combat morning sickness but led to the birth of children without limbs during the 1950s and 1960s.

Friday's apology was rejected as insufficient by the charity Thalidomide Agency UK, which represents people who were affected by the drug in Britain.

Freddie Astbury, the charity's head consultant, said the company needed to "put their money where their mouth is" rather than simply express regret.

Mr Astbury, who was born in Chester in 1959 with no arms and no legs after his mother took the drug, said: "If they are serious about admitting they are at fault and regret what happened they need to start helping those of us who were affected financially."

Phillipa Bradbourne, a Thalidomide baby born without arms at a party given at Hamilton Terrace, London to mark the first anniversary of the Lady Hoare Thalidomide Appeal. This picture was taken in 1963

Grunenthal chief executive Harald Stock has said that the company had failed to reach out "from person to person" to the victims and their mothers over the past 50 years.

"Instead, we have been silent and we are very sorry for that," he added at an event in the western German city of Stolberg, where the company is based.

Thalidomide was pulled from the market in 1961 after it was linked to birth defects. Many victims have only recently received compensation.

Mr Astbury said the company had always denied it had anything to do with the birth defects and believes they are now apologising because of court proceedings brought by victims in Australia.

He said: "Being disabled is very expensive and Thalidomide people need help and care, and adaptations to their cars and homes.

"We just want people to live a comfortable life and that means Grunenthal have to pay for their mistake financially."

Thalidomide UK Agency says that there are 458 people currently in the UK who were affected by the drug, but that for every Thalidomide baby that lived there were 10 that died.

In January 2010, the government expressed "sincere regret" for the decision to give the drug the stamp of approval and set up a funding scheme to help survivors cope.

Thalidomide was originally prescribed as a "wonder drug" for morning sickness, headaches, coughs, insomnia and colds.

Thalidomide babies often suffered missing or deformed limbs and extreme shortening of arms and legs, but the drug also caused malformations of the eyes and ears, genitals, heart, kidneys and digestive tract.