The Ministry of Defence has won the bulk of its appeal against a court ruling allowing British veterans who took part in nuclear bomb tests to claim damages.
In June 2009 the High Court ruled that 10 of 1,011 ex-servicemen could launch test cases against the MoD, blaming atomic tests in the 1950s for their ill-health.
The veterans believe Britain’s nuclear tests on the Australian mainland, Monte Bello islands and Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958 have led to health problems including cancer, skin defects and fertility issues.
While acknowledging its “debt of gratitude” the MoD denies negligence and fought the cases on the preliminary point that they were all launched outside the legal time limit.
Today Lady Justice Smith, Lord Justice Leveson and Sir Mark Waller ruled that nine out of the 10 cases were statute-barred, while the tenth, that of the late Bert Sinfield, was entitled to proceed to trial.
The judges said that they had declined to exercise their discretion in the veterans’ favour because they had no evidence by which they could hope to prove that their illnesses had probably been caused by radiation exposure.
The court has decided that one lead claimant can proceed to trial but nine cannot. Solicitor Neil Sampson
It is likely that the veterans will attempt to take their case on to the Supreme Court.
Solicitor Neil Sampson, for the veterans, said after the ruling: “The court has decided that one lead claimant can proceed to trial but nine cannot.
“We are digesting the full judgment and anticipate making an application to the Supreme Court to overturn today’s decision.
“This is so that the nine claimants who the court has said are time barred can proceed together with any others in the claimant group who may fall within the same categories as those the court has barred.”
He added: “There are 1,002 veterans who can proceed to trial in any event.”
Andrew Robathan, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, said: “The MoD welcomes the Court of Appeal judgment that granted the MoD’s limitation appeal in all these cases.
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. Andrew Robathan
“While I have tremendous sympathy with anyone who is ill, the court accepted arguments that the general merits of the claims were extremely weak and said that the claimants had produced no evidence to link illnesses with attendance at the nuclear tests.
“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.
“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 scheme also makes provision for the widows and widowers of service and ex-service personnel in the form of a war widow’s pension. Awards are made where a causal link to service can be recognised.”