'I only wish my dead comrades were here to hear this verdict'

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An independent inquiry called on the Ministry of Defence yesterday to admit the existence of Gulf War syndrome and set aside millions of pounds to compensate sick veterans.

An independent inquiry called on the Ministry of Defence yesterday to admit the existence of Gulf War syndrome and set aside millions of pounds to compensate sick veterans.

In a major victory for campaigners, who have fought for 13 years to have the illnesses officially recognised, an independent public investigation found their complaints to be justified.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick, the former law lord heading the inquiry, said it was time for defence staff to stop "assuming blithely that everyone else was wrong" and start restoring the trust and confidence of the Gulf War veterans, who felt "let down and rejected".

The Government had already missed one opportunity to begin building bridges by refusing to take part in the anonymously funded inquiry, he added. While stopping short of blaming the MoD for sending the forces into a "very toxic environment", Lord Lloyd said: "We are not in the business of establishing blame ... Whether they are culpable in a wider sense, it is a matter for you to make up your own minds after reading the report."

In a conclusion which campaigners said went beyond their greatest hopes, he continued: "All that the veterans want now is an admission from the MoD that they are ill because they served in the Gulf and that admission has never been made."

Major Christine Lloyd, who went to war in peak fitness and returned a physical wreck, said she was "absolutely delighted" by Lord Lloyd's report.

"It is the fact that someone independent, an ex-law lord, believes in us. It does mean so much. We have been at this for such a long time."

The nursing officer was a 43-year-old reservist when she went to Saudi Arabia to set up a field hospital. She went through two batches of multiple injections such as anthrax and plague and lived in quarters constantly sprayed with pesticides, including organophosphates. Upon her return she had developed so many neurological conditions that she had to give up her job the following year.

She said yesterday: "I only wish Major Ian Hill, Major Hilary Jones and Petty Officer Nigel Thompson [who have since died] were here to hear this report."

At least 640 previously fit members of the services have died since the 1991 war, 6,000 are receiving war pensions and 272 have had their cases rejected. Lord Lloyd estimated it would cost the Government approximately £3m to offer ex-gratia payments to sufferers. Rejected cases should also be reviewed, he added.

In a controversial step, the chairman revealed that the inquiry had decided, after considerable deliberation, that the term "syndrome" was appropriate for illnesses that formed a characteristic pattern but might not necessarily be due to the same pathological cause.

Various factors have been blamed for the syndrome, including the cocktail of vaccines such as anthrax injected into servicemen and women, the indiscriminate use of organophosphate sprays, exposure to nerve gas and depleted uranium dust from exploded munitions.

Lord Lloyd called on the MoD, which in the words of the Commons Defence Select Committee, had been "quick to deny but slow to investigate", to commission new research into the subject. He said that he remained hopeful the Government would take his recommendations seriously, but acknowledged that public pressure would have to be sustained.

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