Families lose fight to sue BNFL: Court ruling ends legal aid for leukaemia children who lived near nuclear plants

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The Independent Online
THE last hopes of compensation for eight families whose children developed leukaemia while living near nuclear plants were dashed yesterday when a judge dismissed their claims.

The decision by Mr Justice French after a hearing in chambers means the families will lose their entitlement to legal aid for the forseeable future. The judge said the families could bring fresh proceedings if future scientific research suggested a causal link between childhood cancers and nuclear installations.

Martyn Day, the solicitor who represents the families, had applied for a stay in proceedings for 12 months to await publication of several important pieces of research into causes of childhood cancer.

Earlier this year, the legal aid board agreed to extend legal aid for the families to sue British Nuclear Fuels plc but to suspend payment for about a year pending more research.

The cases involved four families who lived near the BNFL reprocessing plant at Sellafield, Cumbria; two who lived near the Springfields fuel fabrication plant in Lancashire and two from near the UK Atomic Energy Authority site at Dounreay. The Dounreay claims were against the UKAEA and BNFL on the grounds that radiation from Sellafield polluted beaches at Dounreay.

The eight cases were the second batch of claims brought by families seeking compensation from BNFL, represented by Mr Day. The first case, involving Dorothy Reay and Vivien Hope, who developed leukaemia and whose fathers worked at Sellafield, was lost in October last year. Their claim was based on the theory that radiation doses to their fathers before conception could result in leukaemia in their children. Mr Justice French ruled that, on the balance of probabilities, the theory was not to blame. He did not address the question of whether environmental radiation from Sellafield was a cause.

Yesterday, the judge rejected Mr Day's application, saying it was 'entirely speculative' to believe that fresh evidence of sufficient strength to give them a chance of succeeding would emerge.

Mr Day said after the judgment at Maidstone Crown Court: 'This was the one chance that remained for these claims to be brought to trial. It is accepted by everyone that there is an excess of cancers not just around Sellafield but around other nuclear installations in Britain, and radiation still remains one of the prime suspects.

'As a result of today's decision, even if the finger points more firmly in future at Sellafield and other nuclear facilities, justice may never be seen to be done because it seems to me very unlikely that the legal aid board would be prepared to re-fund one of these claims unless the evidence became overwhelming.'

Alvin Shuttleworth, BNFL's legal director, said: 'We have lived with this shadow over us for a long time. Following our decisive victory in the Hope and Reay cases it was only right that the rest should either be proceeded with or dismissed. As the judge noted, even the plaintiff's barrister agreed that these cases would fail if they came to trial today'.

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