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 taken their legal challenge to the UK Supreme court.
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.
Last year the English Court of Appeal ruled that the claims were ‘statute barred’ because they had been made too late. The ruling also cast doubt on claims of a link between the test explosions and the illnesses.
However leave to appeal to the UK Supreme court was granted and the process started today. Nine test cases will pursue the right to sue the MoD.
The US, France and Canada have already agreed to pay compensation to servicemen who were involved in their tests. The MoD refuses to accept any responsibility but did acknowledge a “debt of gratitude”.
The stance taken by the MoD was described as “hopeless” by James Dingemans, the QC acting on behalf of the veterans.
The veteran’s case received a boost after a former RAF pilot, who flew at the time of the tests, claimed to have evidence that official measurements of radiation levels were “massively understated”.
Flight Lieutenant Joseph Pasquini, who served in the RAF’s 76 Squadron, says he will break his fifty year silence and give evidence at the hearing.
Mr Pasquini recorded 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.”
The Supreme court case is likely to last three days but the decision will not be delivered until a later date.