Link made between nuclear tests and cancer

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New scientific evidence made the link between participation in Britain's 1950s nuclear tests and ill-health and established the case for compensation, the High Court heard today.

Benjamin Browne QC, speaking for around 1,000 servicemen who took part in the programme in the South Pacific, said that the Government had satisfied itself as to the validity of the Rowland study of a small group of New Zealand test veterans, which proved that most if not all of them suffered genetic effects due to radiation exposure.

And an American expert at the world's oldest and largest radiological research laboratory, who was the principal investigator for the US government in this field, had said studies both on the Japanese bomb survivors and others showed that exposure to radiation at the levels demonstrated by Rowland's study substantially increased the incidence of cancer and cancer mortality.

A courtroom packed with members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) listened as counsel told Mr Justice Foskett: "Thus the government accepts the paper, and independent scientific evidence of the highest repute demonstrates that there is a link between the results of that paper and cancer incidence.

"The veterans say that the case for compensation is made.

"Yet, not only has the government failed to offer that compensation, it resists all these claims with the utmost determination and all the colossal resources, legal, financial and scientific, at its command.

"Whilst the Ministry of Defence (MoD) itself apparently accepts the validity of the Rowland study, its lawyers seek to rubbish that report at every turn.

"Even more seriously, for the very first time in this litigation, the government say not only that this case for compensation has not been made out, but that it is now far too late to make any such claim at all."

The veterans say that they have suffered illnesses - including cancers, skin defects and fertility problems - because of exposure to fall-out from tests on the Australian mainland, Monte Bello islands and Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958.

During the three-week hearing in London, the MoD will argue as a preliminary issue that the case cannot proceed as it is time-barred - launched outside the legal time limit.

A spokesman for the MoD has said: "The UK government recognises the vital contribution service personnel played in the UK's nuclear tests during the 1950s and understands its obligations to veterans.

"When compensation claims are received they are considered on the basis of whether or not the Ministry of Defence has a legal liability to pay compensation.

"Where there is a proven legal liability, compensation is paid. There is a case ongoing and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Mr Browne told the judge: "Time and again, representatives of the governments have said that the veterans must wait for compensation since science does not establish a link.

"Yet, when that science does finally become available, the MoD now says that all these claims are far too late.

"This is to be contrasted not only with the UK Government's previous attitude where lateness has never been raised, but also with the attitude of many governments around the world who have set up schemes to compensate and are still compensating their veterans as the veterans fall ill.

"The claimants maintain that it was only with this new knowledge that they had the information that enabled them to proceed so that their claims are not time barred, and that it would be just in the circumstances to allow these claims to proceed.

"The questions for the court will be whether that is correct or whether as the Government says, despite years of prevarication and misinformation accompanied by promises of compensation, in the circumstances which have now arisen, the Government should now be entitled to hide behind the time bar raised for the first time in this case so as to snuff out these claims at a preliminary stage."

The court is due to hear evidence from 10 veterans, who believe they were not adequately protected from the blasts and that the MoD - at the time the Atomic Energy Authority - should be held responsible.