Harold Evans led the investigation into Thalidomide that resulted in a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights finding that the public has a right to know.

John Bowman talks to Harold Evans, editor of The Sunday Times, about the scandal of Thalidomide and his newspaper's investigation.

Harold Evans had organised a campaign to take on the drug companies who manufactured thalidomide on behalf of the victims and their families. 

He first came across the thalidomide story back in the early 1960s while working at a newspaper in the north of England. 

I saw pictures of these babies and I was absolutely horrified.

When the story again came across his desk while editor at The Sunday Times in 1968, he was amazed that compensation had still not been paid to these children and their families. It was at this stage that he began to investigate the entire tragedy. 

Harold Evans commends the work carried out by The Sunday Times Insight team who examined the conditions by which the drug was brought into Britain and Ireland.

The proper testing procedures were not followed.

The team examined the levels of compensation paid and found that they fell short of what was required for these children to have any sort of decent quality of life. In 1972, The Sunday Times began a campaign to get more money for the children and for a change to the laws surrounding personal injury compensation. 

They succeeded in getting the compensation raised from three million pounds to twenty million pounds. 

Harold Evans describes how the British laws of contempt of court were used against his investigation thereby contributing to the cover up.

The writs put an envelope of silence over this injustice so that the press and television could not comment and bring it to the attention of the great public.

The Sunday Times fought the case by civil law and a newspaper campaign. They succeeded on both counts with the European Court of Human Rights declaring that The Sunday Times article on the subject that was banned should not have been banned. As a result, the British government is now committed to changing the law of contempt so that it is fairer to the individual citizen. The European Court ruling says,

Do not keep information back from the public. Even when it's before the courts there is a strong case in many instances for the public interest requiring freedom to discuss and debate these matters.

This episode of 'Printout' was broadcast on 10 December 1979. The presenter is John Bowman.

If it gets into print, then it may get into Printout.