Leukaemia victim awarded pounds 167,000: Landmark ruling opens up claims for radiation exposure. Heather Mills reports

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IN A landmark ruling which lawyers say has far-reaching implications for the nuclear industry, a dock worker was yesterday awarded pounds 167,154 damages for leukaemia caused by exposure to high levels of radiation while refitting Royal Navy nuclear submarines.

Rudi Molinari's case was the first in which a nuclear employer - the Ministry of Defence - had ever admitted in court that radiation exposure had caused cancer, and the first time a court had been asked to assess damages.

Union leaders have said that, as a result of the case, the Ministry of Defence had agreed to sign up to the nuclear industries' no-fault compensation scheme, and that 'hundreds' of workers with a variety of rare cancers were now likely to seek compensation. Under the scheme, employers pay compensation for disease or injury without any admission of fault or liability, which saves both parties from protracted legal proceedings.

However, yesterday's award set by the High Court was double the sums paid out under the scheme, and Jack Dromey, national secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, argued that compensation awards across the industry would now have to increase substantially.

'We want the MoD to establish how many people are entitled to compensation. We want payments made and made quickly, which reflect this landmark decision - and not the paltry sums paid out thus far under the compensation scheme,' he said.

Martyn Day, Mr Molinari's solicitor, said: 'We know there are many people out there, hundreds if not thousands of radiation victims throughout the industry, waiting on this case.'

But the MoD, which is also having to pay large sums to the pregnant women wrongly sacked by the RAF, denied there were hundreds of outstanding claims. It said: 'Mr Molinari is the only case in which the MoD has agreed to pay compensation for radiation-induced injury. This is because no other person has ever been shown, on the balance of probabilities, to have been made ill by radiation as a result of MoD employment.' Mr Molinari, 39, who has two children, was exposed to the radiation when he worked at the Royal Naval Dockyards in Chatham, Kent, between 1970 and 1983.

The Deputy High Court judge, William Crowther, said that before the acute lymphatic leukaemia struck three years ago, he was an 'extremely fine figure of a man'. But the disease led to months of 'horrendous' and painful treatment including intensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and bone marrow tests and transplants. The former body-builder's weight dropped from 14 to 10 stones. He suffered life-threatening infections, bouts of nausea and diarrhoea, lost his hair, his saliva dried up, and he will have to take antibiotics for the rest of his life. Treatment had left him sterile and had accelerated his natural ageing process.

Although he was now in remission, he suffered chronic anxiety about the 20 per cent risk of the disease returning. After the hearing, Mr Molinari, of Strood, Kent, said: 'No amount of money will ever be enough to compensate what myself and my family have gone through.'