A special needs student who was poisoned when he drank detergent is recovering from an operation to remove damaged parts of his intestine.

Neil Cole, 37, was one of six pupils with learning difficulties who mistook dishwasher liquid for a drink on a visit to Plumpton College, near Lewes, in December 2004.

The students from St Nicholas Day Centre in Lewes, mixed the dishwasher liquid with orange juice before drinking it, leading to internal injuries.

Mr Cole, of Hove, received horrific injuries and was taken to the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

He was on the road to recovery but contracted MRSA during an operation in January 2005 and spent the next 14 months confined to a hospital bed and close to death at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

After leaving hospital Mr Cole returned home but all his food has to be liquidised and fed through a tube.

Two weeks ago he went back to the Royal Sussex for an operation to remove damaged parts of his intestine in the hope he will be able to eat normally.

Mr Cole's brother, Richard Cole, 32, from Burgess Hill, said: "Neil is still in intensive care and will probably be there for another six to eight weeks but he is hoping and fighting to get well.

"We were told when he was taken to intensive care that his condition was very serious again but he seems to be coming through it, even though it is still early days.

"His life will never go back to the way it was before. He will need care for the rest of his life. It has made us feel angry again because it should never have happened in the first place.

"If children had been affected by this something would have been done about it by now. East Sussex County Council admitted liability but have taken ages to give Neil interim payments for his care."

During Mr Cole's first stay in hospital he suffered problems with his lungs and spent so long in intensive care that the tissues in his legs hardened, meaning he needs a hip replacement.

His weight also plummeted to 8st from 14st.

Richard said: "It is unbelievable. He has had such a battle but he doesn't moan. It has become his life, going in and out of hospital.

"The nurses who have cared for him have been amazing. They could not have done more."

A spokeswoman for East Sussex County Council said: "We understand that this is a very distressing time for Neil Cole and his family. While we have accepted liability, we still need to agree the amount of compensation which is due to Neil.

"This means we have to consider medical and other reports. We are currently working through these with the family's solicitor and have already made a number of interim payments to the family."