The British Government announced on Saturday the establishment of a £55m (US$80.9m) trust fund to compensate the families of the victims of vCJD, the human variant of mad cow disease.

The Department of Health (DoH) revealed that as well as providing for the settlement of compensation claims received from vCJD victims, the government will also now be able to provide each of the disease sufferers, or their families, with a one-off payment of £50,000.

This payment scheme, which is earmarked for the first 250 cases, will be made in recognition of the "exceptional circumstances" involved, said Health Secretary Alan Milburn. The DoH added that if there were "much larger numbers" applying for this one-off payment, then the size of future payments would be reviewed.

The trust fund is only the latest in attempts by the government to recompense sufferers. Last year, a £1m package was offered to help provide care for sufferers and an interim trust fund established this April has already provided most families with interim payments of £25,000, according to the DoH.

The government said that trustees to administer the new fund will be appointed shortly, and ensured that they would operate a "fair and even handed assessment" of all compensation claims.

There have been 101 known deaths from vCJD in the UK to date, and sufferers and their families welcomed news of the fund.

Dave Churchill, father of the first vCJD victim, 19-year-old son Stephen, told the BBC: "[This is a] very, very significant day in the history of this dreadful disease."

Many families have been waiting for compensation for years, he said, but the fund is "a unique achievement in terms of compensation".

"This money will be of a tremendous help to many families. There are families who are literally on the breadline because of this disease."

"At a personal level for our family compensation in terms of value was never an issue. What was more important was a recognition of the issue."