Page last updated at 18:29 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 19:29 UK

Bomb test veterans join court bid

Herbert Tomlin as a young Royal Marine
Herbert Tomlin was stationed on Christmas Island from 1958 to 1959

Former servicemen and families from the South East have joined one of the country's biggest compensation claims.

The men were part of nuclear tests during the Cold War, and believe health problems were caused by radiation from hydrogen and atomic bombs.

They have taken their legal battle against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the High Court.

For the first time, some of the men have spoken about their experiences on Christmas Island.

Many hydrogen bombs were tested in the South Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s.

About 12,000 servicemen and 1,000 civilians are thought to have witnessed the explosions carried out by the British and US governments off Christmas Island.

'Suspect protection'

Thousands of those involved have since developed cancer and many more have suffered other health problems or had children with genetic abnormalities, according to the writ issued by London-based Rosenblatt Solicitors.

Veterans claim they were not given suitable protective clothing during the detonation of nuclear devices and suffered exposure to radiation.

One of those involved in the compensation claim is Herbert Tomlin, 69, who lives in Faversham, Kent.

The former Royal Marine, originally from Cornwall, said: "I took it in my stride at the time, but I was a bit suspect with regards to the amount of protection we had, which was virtually nil."

I think I'd like the government to recognise what they put their servicemen through
Malcolm Pike, former naval officer

He was stationed on Christmas Island for a year from 1958 to 1959 and was given cotton gloves and balaclava to wear during atomic and hydrogen bomb explosions.

"I was very surprised with the heat of the first bomb - it felt as if an electric fire was being moved across my back," he said.

After the detonation he was worried about travelling under a rain cloud.

When he asked a scientific officer whether it would be a problem, he was told "you'll know in 40 years' time".

He has since suffered chronic lung disease, which was properly diagnosed in the 1970s, and is concerned that his two sons' asthma and his wife's problems with pregnancy may have been caused by the radiation.

Many veterans claim they have suffered ill health as a result of radiation exposure and that in many cases their children and grandchildren have also been affected.

Malcolm Pike
Malcolm Pike has suffered health problems since he returned

According to the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, the grandchildren of servicemen involved in the tests have an increased risk of conditions such as spina bifida.

Malcolm Pike from Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, a naval officer on HMS Warrior in 1957, witnessed several test explosions on Christmas Island.

He and his wife Margaret, who already had one daughter, were unable to have any more children after he returned, which his doctor linked to radiation exposure.

Mr Pike said: "I think I'd like the government to recognise what they put their servicemen through."

He blames the fall-out from the bombs for his infertility and years of health problems.

He has suffered black-outs, breathing difficulties and lesions regularly have to be removed from his body.

Legal liability

Servicemen from the US, New Zealand and Australia who took part in the tests have already received compensation.

In a statement, the MoD said it was up to the courts to decide whether the group's action should proceed.

It said: "The UK government recognises its obligations to veterans of the UK nuclear tests."

A spokesperson for the MoD added: "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."

Manx nuclear veterans compensated
19 Feb 08 |  Isle of Man

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