Govt to face legal action from nuclear test veterans

By Laura Miller

Ex-servicemen involved in British nuclear testing in the 1950s are to launch a legal bid against the government at the high court later.

The veterans were involved in nuclear tests in the Indian and Pacific oceans carried out by the British government after the second world war.

Now, on behalf of 250,000 children of ex-servicemen, they are taking their campaign for research into the cross-generational effects of radiation to the high court, as well as claiming compensation for 50 years of illnesses they argue are direct results of exposure during experiments half a century ago.

“Four generations of children have suffered malformations, spina bifida, being born with two sets of adult teeth, all because of what happened on those islands,” Ms Sandie Hern, spokesperson for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA), told politics.co.uk.

“I’m angry but it also breaks my heart that the British government won’t even acknowledge they did anything wrong. Russia, China, Australia, America, have all paid out compensation to their veterans,” she said.

But Ministry of Defence (MoD) lawyers will try to prevent the veterans’ claims reaching a full hearing on the basis that the tests took place too long ago for compensation to be considered.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: “The government has a moral duty to compensate those servicemen who, when many of them were no more than teenagers, put their health at tremendous risk for the sake of the nation’s security.

“It is disgraceful that the MoD is hiding behind a technicality. Virtually every other country, from China to France, has compensated their test veterans.”

Deep into the Cold War, Britain carried out a number of weapons based nuclear experiments involving British army personnel in mainland Australia, the Montebello islands off the west Australian coast and on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

The MoD is now facing accusations that those involved were not given proper protection or training, and that many have suffered decades of ill heath, including cancers, skin defects, fertility problems and reduced life expectancy, which they blame on radiation exposure.

The MoD says it recognises the troops’ “vital role” in British nuclear tests.

The high court hearing to assess whether the claims are barred by the Limitation Act 1980 begins on Wednesday and may take two weeks.