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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Legal help for nuclear test veterans
mushroom cloud
Nuclear tests were carried out in the 1950s and 1960s
Two British law firms are investigating thousands of claims by veterans who say they became chronically ill after witnessing nuclear tests during the 1950s and 1960s.

The work being carried out by Alexander Harris and Clarke Willmott & Clarke could result in legal action against the Ministry of Defence to claim compensation for the victims.


I have since developed diabetes and glaucoma, and I sweat profusely every night and still have bad dreams

Veteran Derek Redfern
Thousands of British, Commonwealth and United States troops took part in the tests which were held in Australia, Christmas Island and other islands in the South Pacific.

Many of those present say they were not given suitable protective clothing as they watched the detonation of nuclear devices by Britain and the United States.

Derek Redfern, 62, believes he suffered ill-health after attending H-bomb tests on Christmas Island in the South Pacific in 1958.

Boils

"Straight afterwards I developed little boils all over my skin, but the doctors put it down to prickly heat, even though I never had it before.

"I have since developed diabetes and glaucoma, and I sweat profusely every night and still have bad dreams.

"Now I want compensation because if I die of something which the MoD says is not its fault, my wife will not get my pension."

We refute very strongly any suggestion that these veterans were used as guinea pigs

MoD spokesman

The MoD has always denied that the level of exposure was enough to have caused the cancers and associated illnesses which many of the veterans say resulted from the tests.

A number have died from cancer and others say the exposure to atomic radiation has made them severely ill.

New research

Mervyn Fudge, a partner at Clarke Willmott & Clarke, said: "Recently-published research shows that the stance taken by the Ministry of Defence is incorrect and that the veterans have sustained injuries which should allow them to claim compensation from the British Government".

It is still unclear how many veterans have been affected and would be in a position to claim compensation.

The law firms hope to present their findings and five example cases to the Legal Services Commission in September.

David Harris, senior partner of Alexander Harris, said the investigations would include claims from New Zealand and Fijian veterans who are suffering from a similar range of health problems.

No compensation

"We will be looking at the scientific and medical evidence which is now available to establish whether a link can be made between the ill health that these people are suffering and the nuclear testing which took place."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said independent studies involving 21,000 servicemen have showed no evidence of excess illness or mortality amongst the veterans which could be linked to their participation in the nuclear test programme.

"We believe therefore there are no grounds for general compensation," he said.

A helpline has been set up for veterans who may have questions about the investigations: 0800 358 1855.

See also:

25 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
28 Jan 00 | UK
29 May 98 | Despatches
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