Cancer linked to radiation, MoD admits: Heather Mills reports on a former submarine worker's claim for pounds 250,000

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT yesterday admitted responsibility for the blood cancer suffered by a dock worker exposed to high doses of radiation when he refitted nuclear submarines - but it is contesting the pounds 250,000 damages claim.

Rudi Molinari's case is regarded by lawyers as an important test and is being watched by about 120 other workers who are considering claims for radiation exposure against the Ministry of Defence.

Three years ago, Mr Molinari, 39, was found to be suffering from acute lymphatic leukaemia. It led to months of painful treatment including intensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and bone marrow transplants.

During that time, the former body-builder's weight dropped from 14 to 10 stone. He suffered prolonged bouts of nausea and diarrhoea, lost his hair and his sense of taste; his saliva dried up and he suffered a series of infections including shingles. It has left him sterile, destroying his hopes of having a third child.

The court watched a video film contrasting how he once looked as a fit, bronzed weight- trainer to the pale, frail man that he became.

Mr Molinari who sat in court with his wife, and two children, is currently in remission, but the High Court was told that there was between a 12 and 20 per cent chance of the disease returning - it has already come back once. 'The grim reality is that if there is a further relapse it is 80 per cent likely to be fatal,' John Hendy QC, his counsel, said.

From 1974 to 1983 Mr Molinari had been employed as a specialist fitter, vetted to work on the Hunter Killer submarines at the Royal Naval Dockyards, in Chatham, Kent, when he suffered the radiation exposure.

But it was seven years after he was made redundant when the dockyard closed and when he was working as a double- glazing fitter, that he suddenly became seriously ill. Investigation into a painful swelling on his leg revealed leukaemia.

The news, he said 'was like an explosion inside of me'. He told the court: 'The first thing I thought of was my day in the dockyard, when I worked in the reactor compartment and closely with a lot of radiation.'

Even though he was in remission, he said he still suffered strange cramps in his hands and an excess of mucous. He said the fear of a relapse 'is a constant black cloud hanging over me'.

He had seen others die in hospital and he feared his radiation exposure might harm his children.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence denied negligence but admitted breach of statutory duty, in that it 'failed to do all that was reasonably practicable to restrict the extent to which Mr Molinari was exposed to ionising radiations' contrary to 1968 radiation regulations.

The case is seen as significant because of the acceptance by the Ministry of Defence that on the balance of probabilities, Mr Molinari's cancer was the direct result of radiation exposure.

Although some of the other MoD workers are expected to launch claims as a result of the case, most are understood to be waiting the introduction of a 'no fault' compensation scheme currently being considered and discussed by the department with the relevant trade unions.

Judge William Crowther is expected to assess Mr Molinari's damages today.

(Photograph omitted)