Mine expert blinded for 'lack of goggles'

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The Independent Online
A mine-disposal expert was blinded and lost a leg clearing mines following the Gulf war because he was sent to Kuwait with no protective clothing or equipment, the High Court was told yesterday.

Paul Jefferson, 39, was sent to Kuwait in 1991 by Royal Ordnance, a subsidiary of British Aerospace, who had won a pounds 60m contract to make safe minefields laid by retreating Iraqi forces. He had taken a pair of goggles with him but had lent them to another member of the team detonating mines in the Kuwaiti oil fields. Mr Jefferson alleged he was threatened by members of Royal Ordnance that, despite a lack of equipment, if he could not carry out the work he "could get on the next plane home".

He and three other members of the team were involved in a mission in June 1991 to establish whether certain mines could be destroyed by burning them, when he trod on a mine. Because the Ordnance disposal teams were not equipped with detonators to blow up mines the four men had gone to a mine dump on a Kuwaiti beach to "scavenge" for suitable equipment - after a makeshift detonation using a Coca-Cola can filled with petrol had failed.

"Had he been wearing protective goggles he would have kept his sight," Andrew Hogarth, for the prosecution, said.

William Norris QC, for the defence, said Mr Jefferson was a "cavalier operator" who kept mines under his bed in Kuwait and did not always wear protective clothing even when it was available.

The case continues.

n A Royal Navy helicopter pilot who pulled the Virgin tycoon Richard Branson from the sea after his ill-fated attempt to cross the Atlantic by balloon was yesterday awarded "very substantial" damages for a skiing accident which left him almost totally paralysed. Trevor Jones, 35, was injured practising for the Navy skiing championships in Austria in 1988 because of what he claimed was Ministry of Defence negligence in not making sure that a slalom run was safe.