Epilepsy girl, 12, will learn at home

Sep 27 2005

Daniel Davies, Western Mail

EDUCATION chiefs agreed to teach a 12-year-old girl with epilepsy at home after it was claimed a police radio mast near her school was giving her fits.

The family of Nicola Packard planned to use the courts to force Dyfed-Powys Police to remove one of its controversial Tetra masts.

Her mother, Jayne, said Nicola - who has severe learning difficulties and uses a wheelchair - had seven fits on the day the mast was switched on, compared to an average of one seizure a month.

The mast, at Haverfordwest Police Station, Pembrokeshire, is about 1km from Nicola's school.

The family moved house in 2000 when a mobile phone mast was built opposite their home and Nicola's fits deteriorated sharply.

They dropped legal action against Pembrokeshire County Council last week when officials agreed to teach Nicola at home in Hakin, near Milford Haven, where she lives with her mother, sister Natasha, 17, and stepfather John, 47. A teacher or learning support assistant will visit for two to three hours a day.

The police Tetra communication system has provoked angry protests from communities who fear the masts emit dangerous radiation.

Mrs Packard, 34, said, "They have backtracked and now she can have home tuition. But I don't want Nicola to have home tuition - I want that mast gone so Nicola can go back to school."

She withdrew her daughter from Portfield Special School when the mast was activated in May. This month she was given a form of diazepam to stop a bout of severe fits when she returned for two days to see if the mast sparked more seizures.

"The day it was turned on Nicola had quite a few fits after she arrived home from school," Mrs Packard said.

"I put her in school two weeks ago to prove to myself that it was harming her. On the Thursday she had fits going into one another. They were not stopping.

"We didn't want to use her as a guinea pig, but we needed to know."

Nicola, who communicates through basic sign language, cannot take medicine for the epilepsy because of powerful side effects.

Mrs Packard claimed another pupil had also been withdrawn from Portfield School complaining of illness since the mast became active, although the school refused to comment on this.

The family has had advice from University Hospital of Wales specialists suggesting a possible link between Nicola's epileptic fits and the Tetra mast, Mrs Packard said.

Five years ago Nicola was having up to 40 seizures a day, which they believed was due to a nearby mast.

Government research found it unlikely that Tetra could pose a risk to human health.

However Michael Charles, Mrs Packard's solicitor, claimed the genuine risk to Nicola's health was clear.

He said, "I don't consider that in this case there was a need to establish a direct link between the Tetra mast and the individual's health.

"The state of scientific evidence to date recommends a precautionary approach towards the use of mobile telecommunications equipment.

"It's difficult to understand how one can be exercising a precautionary approach if you put telecommunications equipment within a stone's throw of a special needs school."

But Mr Charles took time to praise the response of Pembrokeshire council.

He said, "The council has been very responsible and I applaud them."

A Pembrokeshire council spokesman said they would not comment on individual cases, apart from to confirm that Nicola would now receive home tuition.

A spokeswoman for Dyfed-Powys Police said, "We are awaiting the results of the planning appeal by O2 over the siting of the base station which will provide coverage for Haverfordwest from an alternative location.

"The force understands that the planning inspectorate will hear that appeal at the beginning of November.

"Currently, there is no definitive scientific proof that airwave base stations affect people who are susceptible to epilepsy."

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