Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ex-soldier backs nuclear veterans

Nuclear tests
The tests took place at the height of the Cold War

An ex-soldier with cancer is backing calls by veterans of nuclear tests in the South Pacific for compensation.

Barry Hands, 71, from Droitwich, Worcs, said he was ordered to stand on a beach during five nuclear explosions on Christmas Island in the 1950s.

Nearly 1,000 veterans have taken the Ministry of Defence to the High Court saying they suffered illness as a result of the tests.

The MoD says it compensates when liability is proven.

The three-week hearing will decide if a full hearing over the multi-million pound compensation claim will go ahead.

The ex-servicemen want compensation for illnesses, including cancer, skin defects and fertility problems, which they claim result from exposure to radiation during nuclear bomb testing.

But MoD lawyers are arguing the tests happened too long ago for compensation to be considered.

'Duty of care'

Mr Hands, who has malignant melanoma, said the servicemen did not have the resources to carry out "exhaustive medical tests" to back their case.

But he believed the numbers "would indicate that there is a connection between the young men who went out on these nuclear testing programmes who have come back with cancers" in relation to the general population.

Mr Hands added that other countries, including France and Australia, who were involved in the tests had paid out to their claimants.

He said: "I find it strange that the government doesn't accept it has a duty of care to the young men who were sent out there."

At Tuesday's hearing, Benjamin Browne QC, who is representing the ex-servicemen, said science had made a link between their health and role in the tests.

Mr Browne pointed to 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".

An MoD spokesman said the government recognised "the vital contribution service personnel played in the UK's nuclear tests during the 1950s" and understood its obligation to veterans.

He added: "Where there is a proven legal liability, compensation is paid."

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