Page last updated at 06:54 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Nuclear tests compensation call

Nuclear tests
Nuclear testing was carried out on Christmas Island in the South Pacific

A Welsh Labour politician has added his voice for thousands of ex-servicemen involved in Britain's nuclear tests in the 1950s to receive compensation.

Thousands suffered serious ill health, believed to be linked to radiation exposure during the tests.

A legal challenge is under way after defence chiefs told veterans they were out of time to claim for compensation.

John Smith, MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, called the government's attitude "a sad state of affairs."

The nuclear veterans, as they are known, are currently making a High Court challenge against the Ministry of Defence's argument that they are out of time to claim for compensation.

But lawyers for the men have accused the UK government of hypocrisy, as veterans were previously told such claims would be considered when evidence became available.

I'm afraid we've fallen way short
John Smith, MP

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.

Other governments, including America, France and the Isle of Man, have acknowledged and compensated people who have suffered ill health believed to stem from their presence at the series of tests in Australia, the South Pacific and Indian Oceans between 1952 and 1958.

Neil Sampson, a partner in solicitors Rosenblatt, which is representing the survivors and families of deceased veterans, said: "It's disingenuous. It's using a technicality of the law to avoid the liability, or to avoid the question of liability being properly considered by the High Court.

"The government has said for 50 years that no participants in the tests were exposed to radiation.

"They've also said, if you can prove that you are ill as a result of being exposed to radiation, we will pay compensation.

Duty-bound

"It's only very recently that the science has been available to prove that people were exposed to radiation, and now the government is being somewhat hypocritical in saying 'well it's too late, you should have brought your case years ago'."

Mr Smith, who is also a defence select committee member, describes the government's attitude to the veterans as "a sad state of affairs."

He told BBC's Eye on Wales programme: "We've done a lot of good work in the last decade in terms of supporting veterans in very many fields.

"In this one, I'm afraid we've fallen way short.

"The longer this goes on, the greater the injustice, and that's why I think the Ministry of Defence and the government are duty-bound to address this issue.

"Most of our senior western allies have done so, it's about time we did."

The MoD said it recognised the "vital contribution" of servicemen to the UK's nuclear tests but could not comment further due to ongoing legal action.

Eye on Wales is on BBC Radio Wales at 1830 GMT on Monday, 26 January.

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