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March 14, 2012

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Veterans lose MoD ill-health claims appeal

Hundreds of ex-servicemen who allege that they were made ill as a result of radiation exposure from nuclear tests in the 1950s have narrowly lost their bid to pursue damages claims against the Ministry of Defence.

Between October 1952 and September 1958, the MoD carried out tests of nuclear devices in the South Pacific. More than 1000 claimants – mainly soldiers, sailors and airmen – have been fighting for the right to launch damages claims against the Ministry for more than two years.

They say that they were exposed to fallout radiation from the tests and that this exposure has caused illness, disability, or death. The MoD acknowledges a “debt of gratitude” but denies negligence.

In early 2009, Mr Justice Foskett ruled that 10 lead claims could proceed to trial, although he also suggested that they might be settled through mediation. The MoD challenged the decision and took the case to the Court of Appeal, which, in 2010, overturned the original ruling.

The appeal court held that nine of the claimants had acquired knowledge more than three years before proceedings were commenced and, therefore, their claims did not meet the criteria of the Limitation Act 1980 – a law designed to prevent stale claims being raised many years after an event when they could have been raised more promptly after the injury.

The Supreme Court today (14 March) rejected the veterans’ appeal by a four-to-three majority. The Court confirmed that the difficulty for veterans had been “to produce cogent evidence, whether from their individual medical histories or from epidemiological material, that the dose of radiation was sufficiently high to establish a causative link with their injuries”.

The Court also concluded that, as the veterans’ claims have no real prospect of success, it would be “absurd” to allow them to go to trial, only for them to be inevitably struck out. The judgement blocks most of the claims, although a certain number can still proceed after an earlier legal ruling.

Neil Sampson, representing the veterans, told the Guardian that the Government should follow the lead of other countries by setting up a “fair and just” compensation scheme. He commented: “The approach that this Government takes is to waste resources on fighting veterans rather than cooperating with them. Every other single nuclear power has established ways to recognise and compensate veterans.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “The MoD recognises the debt of gratitude we have to the servicemen who took part in the nuclear tests. They were important tests that helped keep this nation secure at a difficult time in terms of nuclear technology.”

He added: “Where individual veterans are able to produce reliable evidence to raise a reasonable doubt that their illness is related to their service, they may be entitled to a war pension.”

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12 years ago

The operative word the Ministry of Defence uses is: ‘Reliable evidence. ‘ The only people who hold this reliable evidence is the Ministry of Defence and they refuse to supply it, even when requested to do so by questions under the Freedom of Information Act. Asking them about radiation levels is like talking to a ‘Brick Wall’. The only difference being that although they are both dumb, the wall has some uses.