They also say the German government knew the drug was associated with birth defects, at least 10 days before it was withdrawn from sale in 1961, and almost certainly much earlier.
And they say their evidence proves that Germany’s lack of pharmaceutical regulations in the late 1950s – almost alone among major European nations – led to the thalidomide scandal and meant that it was “complicit by creating the environment that allowed the disaster to occur”.
Now they are calling for support from the UK government for their bid for substantial compensation from the German government.
Thalidomide was used in the late 1950s and early 1960s to treat ailments such as headaches, coughs and colds, but was also used by pregnant women with morning sickness.
It was finally withdrawn in 1961, but by then at least 2,000 babies in the UK had been born with impairments brought about directly by thalidomide, and more than half of them died within their first year, while estimates suggest that for every live birth, at least five foetuses died in the womb.
Disabled campaigners, led by the Thalidomide Trust’s user-led National Advisory Council (NAC), believe that evidence they have obtained shows clearly that the German government was “complicit in the scandal by creating the environment that allowed the disaster to occur”.
A researcher working for the council in Germany has found official documents that show – he says – that the German government was directly involved in halting the trial against thalidomide manufacturer Chemie Grunenthal in 1970.
Two years earlier, secret negotiations had taken place between the federal and state governments and Grunenthal, about stopping the trial before the most damning evidence of the government’s prior knowledge of the high risks of damage to the foetus could be presented in court.
This concealed evidence of the government’s failings and also protected Grunenthal from being sued.
Nick Dobrik, NAC chair, said the new evidence was “a major breakthrough” in the campaign for compensation from the German government.
He said: “We have incontrovertible documentary evidence of the German government’s interference in the judicial process.
“Indeed, the civil servants’ advice at that meeting in the late 1960s was that what was happening in these negotiations was a manipulation of the running criminal trial.
“The evidence shows the German government’s interference wasn’t legally permissible and it was clearly morally wrong.”
He added: “Disturbingly, the person who made the decision to close the trial was justice minster Neuberger, who was also a partner in the legal firm defending Grunenthal!
“As a result of this information being concealed, and so not available to lawyers in the UK, the consequences for British thalidomide survivors were disastrous.”
Dobrik said that it lengthened the compensation battle in the UK and eventually led to families of thalidomide survivors being forced to settle out of court in 1972 for just two-fifths of the amount of compensation they should have been entitled to.
The remaining 469 UK thalidomide survivors are this week writing to their MPs to ask them to lobby the Conservative Europe minister David Lidington, and the Liberal Democrat care and support minister Norman Lamb.
They want the two ministers to liaise with their counterparts in the German government and the European Union’s Council of Ministers.
Lamb is due to meet the Thalidomide Trust’s new director and members of the NAC on 23 June.
Dobrik said they had had an “initial, fruitful, meeting” with a senior civil servant in the German Ministry for Families, and were waiting for a promised high-level meeting with officials in the German Ministry of Health.
12 June 2014