SNP lead fight for justice as nuclear veterans attend Scottish Parliament


By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has thrown its weight behind a campaign aimed at seeking justice for victims of the UK’s atomic tests at Christmas Island in the 50s.

The party gave its support on the day that Nuclear Test Veterans attend Parliament to hear a debate on their case for compensation from the UK Government.

Over one thousand ex-servicemen are arguing that radiation from nuclear tests carried out in the Pacific from 1952 to 1958 led to illnesses including cancer, leukaemia and infertility.

An appeal involving nine test cases was heard by the UK Supreme court earlier this month, a ruling will be given in the near future.

The US, France and Canada have already agreed to pay compensation to servicemen who were involved in their tests.  However the MoD refuses to accept that the men’s condition was caused by the exposure to radiation.

Ken McGinley, a nuclear test veteran campaigner for 30 years who will be at Parliament, was just a teenager when he joined hundreds of other young men to set sail from Southampton on New Year’s Eve in 1957 and arrived at Christmas Island a month later.

During his 11 months service in the Indian Ocean islands he was exposed to three hydrogen and two atomic bombs.

Ken, now 73, from Johnstone, said:

“All we were told to do was cover our eyes – but when the bomb went off we could see the bones in our clenched fists as they were tucked tightly into the sockets of our eyes.

“The heat was tremendous and the ill-effects started almost immediately, it was horrendous.

“That evening there was men crying and couldn’t sleep properly.  We were running to and from the toilet with sickness and diarrhoea not to mention the water blisters.  And that was just the start.”

Peter Keegan, from Motherwell, will be with Ken tomorrow is the son of one of the veterans.  His father was a regular soldier when he went to Christmas Island aged 18. He died of bowel cancer at only 33 when Peter was just 15 years old.

Peter said:

“A large piece of the jigsaw of my life is missing and that meant I missed out on all the normal things a boy would do with his father.

“I was 15 when my father died and I found this very difficult.  I am happy about the debate as I believe that anything that raises awareness and keeps pressure on the UK government is a good thing.  I want closure and not just financial closure because no amount of money could ever replace my father.

Ken, Peter and the veterans have long argued that the radiation they were exposed to has given both themselves and their families a legacy health problem, including cancers, infertility, high rates of miscarriage, along with rare degenerative diseases.

To date the MoD acknowledges a “debt of gratitude” but denies negligence.

Ken and a number of other veterans will join SNP MSP Christina McKelvie who will lead a debate calling for nuclear test veterans to have their unique service and contribution recognised by the UK Government as they fight for compensation for the injuries and damage they have suffered.

The Scottish Parliament debate will speak up for over 20,000 ex-servicemen and their families who were involved when the United Kingdom carried out nuclear weapons tests near Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958.

There are now only around 1,000 surviving British nuclear veterans and 70 in Scotland, including one in Ms McKelvie’s Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse constituency.

Ms McKelvie said:

“Over a thousand claimants, who are seriously ill nuclear test veterans or the widows and children of those who have died, want to gain recognition and compensation from the UK Government.

“In any other country where servicemen took part in nuclear tests their contribution has been recognised and they have been properly supported.

“It is now high time the UK government should do their duty of care to these veterans and support them appropriately.”

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