22 Nov 2010

MoD wins appeal against atomic test veterans

In a blow for veterans the MoD wins the bulk of its appeal against ex-servicemen who claim nuclear bomb tests led to ill-health.

MoD wins appeal against atomic test veterans

Science Correspondent Julian Rush was in court to hear the judgement and writes:

Appeal Court judges have ruled that servicemen involved in the nuclear tests of the 50s and 60s cannot bring nine out of ten test cases seeking compensation for the ill-health, including cancers, they say were caused by their exposure to radiation during the atom bomb tests.

It’s a major blow for just over a thousand nuclear veterans, who first lodged their claim in 2004. Many are now in their 70s and older. The MoD has spent some £4m fighting the case.

The judges agreed with the MoD that the nine cases were all launched outside the legal time limit. The MoD did not appeal the tenth case, that of the late Bert Sinfield, which can now go to court but ministry officials believe it is a weak case that is unlikely to succeed.

The nuclear veterans argue that the MoD was negligent by exposing them to radiation during the tests but, in a further blow, the judges said it will be very difficult to prove that their illnesses were directly related to their exposure.

Giving judgement, Lady Justice Smith said “We have no doubt that it will appear that the law is hard on people like these claimants who have given service to their country and may have suffered harm as a result.”


The ruling is potentially embarrassing for the Armed Forces minister, the Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey. Mr Harvey gave evidence in support of the nuclear veterans in earlier hearings, saying he believed “it is in the public interest to find out why other countries have recognised their atomic veterans.

We recognise the invaluable contribution of all service personnel who took part in the nuclear testing programme. MP Andrew Robathan

“Britain, however, continues to ignore her veterans and hide behind legislation to deny a fair and democratic hearing in the public domain.”

But a spokeswoman for the MoD told me Mr Harvey has now accepted the Court of Appeal ruling. “Mr Harvey reviewed the evidence himself and came to the same conclusion as the court, that there was a lack of causation evidence.”

The Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Andrew Robathan MP said “We recognise the invaluable contribution of all service personnel who took part in the nuclear testing programme. We are grateful to them for the part they played in ensuring UK security.”

He went on, in words that will have a hollow ring for many veterans: “Compensation in the form of a war pension is available to all former members of HM Forces suffering from an illness or injury attributable to service.”

The MoD is also currently challenging some nuclear veterans’ war pension claims in a separate tribunal.