By a Newsnet reporter
Veterans who claim to have endured illnesses after being exposed to radiation from the UK’s Christmas Island test explosions in the 50s have lost the latest round of their fight for damages.
The UK Supreme Court today ruled that over one thousand ex-servicemen who claim that radiation from nuclear tests carried out in the Pacific from 1952 to 1958 led to illnesses including cancer, leukaemia and infertility, could not seek damages from the MoD.
The 1,000+ claimants involving over 70 Scottish families – including some who visited the Scottish Parliament at the end of last year to hear a debate on the issue – have been fighting their case for over two years.
However today the Supreme Court ruled by 4 to 3 in favour of the MoD which means that a majority of the cases cannot proceed due, say judges, to a lack of evidence proving links between the illnesses and the tests. The judges also explained that some of the claims had been made too late.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the veterans are studying the ruling to try to establish how many cases can proceed.
Veterans’ lawyer Neil Sampson called on the UK Government to set up a “fair and just” compensation scheme. “The approach that this Government takes is to waste resources on fighting veterans rather than co-operating with them,” he said.
“There are some things in life that are wrong. The approach of the Government to this issue is one of those things.”
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, who led the debate at Holyrood, has spoken of her bitter disappointment at the decision.
Ms McKelvie, MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, said:
“This is obviously a very disappointing result, all the more so because the decision was so close and because it appears to have gone against the veterans on a technicality relating to the timing of the action.
“The UK is now more isolated than ever in refusing to accept its responsibilities towards nuclear veterans with New Zealand, the United States, Australia, France and Russia have all acknowledged their debt to their service veterans.
“That is a continuing scandal, made worse by the hypocrisy of the MoD … it has already compensated some veterans – just not its own.”
The MoD has paid £20 million to Australia to use towards compensation for its nuclear test veterans. The US, France and Canada have already agreed to pay compensation to servicemen who were involved in their tests.
Ms McKelvie added:
“The MoD has spent £5 million in legal battles to prevent veterans being compensated – instead of just doing the right thing and acknowledging the claims for justice of a dwindling group of sick and elderly people who made an enormous sacrifice for their country.
“It is not too late for the MoD to do what it should have done long ago – pay heed to the very strong medical and scientific evidence which backs up the veterans’ claims and give them the justice they deserve, while some of them are still here to receive it.
“While today’s decision at the Supreme Court is the wrong one and is a major setback for the families involved, the fight for justice will go on.”
The MoD issued a statement which said: “The Ministry of Defence recognises the debt of gratitude we have to the servicemen who took part in the nuclear tests. They were important tests that helped to keep this nation secure at a difficult time in terms of nuclear technology.”
The case resulted in Flight Lieutenant Joseph Pasquini, who served in the RAF’s 76 Squadron, breaking his fifty year silence as he recollected the events.
Mr Pasquini recalled recording radiation levels during the UK’s biggest nuclear test blast (Grapple Y) at Christmas Island on 28 April, 1958. He claimed he was told that the bomb was in the 10 megaton range, more than three times the official size of 3.2 megatons given by the MoD.
Speaking to the Independent newspaper the 78 year old former pilot said: “Radioactive rain fell when Grapple Yankee was detonated. I flew through it and my radiation recording instruments immediately lit up like a Christmas tree.”
He added: “Official readings recorded in the AWRE records were far lower than my logs,”
Mr Pasquini said: “My readings were… recorded and logged at the time and on the day of the detonation. But they are much higher than the official logs. I have those logs and I am happy to go public with them.”
He added: “I made several Freedom of Information requests and looked at the readings officially given and they were utterly false. My records for the MoD and AWRE are inaccurate.
“I didn’t say anything for 50 years because I was sworn to secrecy by the Official Secrets Act, and not even my wife knew what I knew. But people need to know the truth about what happened.”
At the moment of detonation there was a flash. At that instant I was able to see straight through my hands. I could see the veins. I could see the blood, I could see all the skin tissue, I could see the bones and worst of all, I could see the flash itself. It was like looking into a white-hot diamond, a second sun.
Ken McGinley in his book ‘No Risk Involved’ published by Mainstream Publishing Company (Edinburgh) Ltd, 1991