Atomic bomb 'guinea pigs' in legal fight

EX-SERVICEMEN from Suffolk and Essex who claim the Government treated them like “guinea pigs” during Cold War atomic bomb testing are fighting for compensation which could run into millions of pounds.

Craig Robinson

EX-SERVICEMEN from Suffolk and Essex who claim the Government treated them like “guinea pigs” during Cold War atomic bomb testing are fighting for compensation which could run into millions of pounds.

The Atomic Veterans' Group has handed a writ to the High Court seeking unlimited damages from the Ministry of Defence following nuclear tests in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in the 1950s, it emerged last night.

The claim focuses on the impact that nuclear testing has had on the health of the men including cancers, skin defects, fertility problems and reduced life expectancy.

There are seven people from Suffolk and Essex taking the action - made up of those directly affected by the nuclear tests or, where the servicemen are deceased, their dependents or personal representatives of their estates.

This includes Frederick Savill of Braintree, Robert Scowcroft of Stanton near Bury St Edmunds - the father of former Ipswich Town striker James Scowcroft - and Richard Clifford from Reydon, near Southwold.

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Last night, Mr Clifford told the EADT: “My own symptoms have been fairly minor. But my children have both had skin problems and my second wife suffered a miscarriage.”

The 69-year-old said he witnessed two atomic blasts while serving as a storeman providing motor parts for the RAF on Christmas Island between 1957 and 1958.

“We were told to turn our backs to the explosion and cover our eyes - that's all. We were never told they could be dangerous. We were all a little nervous and apprehensive but that was it,” he claimed.

Queenie Howard, of West Row, near Mildenhall, is taking action on behalf of her dead husband Frank; Wendy Bear, of Sudbury, on behalf of her deceased husband Peter; Grace Ryan, of Earls Colne near Colchester, on behalf of her dead husband Samuel; and Beryl Cole, from Colchester, on behalf of her husband Terry, who died in 2004 aged 68.

She claimed the men did not receive enough protection from the nuclear blasts.

“They were told to go under the trees and they all sat on the ground,” the 69-year-old said. “I think they had their backs to the explosions and they put their hands in their eye sockets, but they could still see the flash because they saw right through their hands.”

She said at the time her husband - who witnessed two nuclear explosions when he was on Christmas Island in the late 1950s as part of his three-year National Service as an RAF mechanic - did not worry about possible dangers.

“I think he enjoyed his time out there, he said it was an experience he did not want to miss,” she said.

Mr Cole died four years ago after suffering a series of cancers on his face, in his bowel and in his liver.

The Atomic Veterans' Group will be represented in court by Rosenblatt Solicitors.

Last night a spokeswoman for the law firm said the ex-servicemen believe they were used as guinea pigs to study the effects of radiation and were not adequately protected from the blasts.

They claim the Ministry of Defence - at the time called the Atomic Energy Authority - is directly responsible, she said.

The Atomic Veterans' Group, represents 1,000 ex-military personnel - 450 of which are still alive - from Britain, New Zealand and Fiji who served the British Government during the 1950s.

The first court hearing is expected to take place in January next year - although an exact date has not been set - and it is believed it could last until 2011 or 2012.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “The Ministry of Defence considers compensation claims on the basis of its legal liability. Where there is a proven legal liability to pay compensation, it does so.”

Where the nuclear blasts took place:

October 3, 1952: Operation Hurricane - Monte Bello Islands (40 miles off Western Australia)

May-June 1956: Operation Mosaic - Warship HMS Diana sails through the cloud of radiation off the Monte Bello Islands.

Sept-Oct 1956: Operation Buffalo - Maralinga, South Australia.

May 1957-Spetmeber 1958: Operation Grapple - Malden Island and Christmas Island in the South Pacific.

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