Atomic bomb test veterans prepare for court battle

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VETERANS who are fighting for compensation over radiation exposure at nuclear bomb testing sites held a remembrance service at Portsmouth Cathedral yesterday.

Around 50 people gathered in the Anglican cathedral’s grounds in Old Portsmouth to remember atomic test veterans from the 1950s and 1960s.

The service came a month before Supreme Court judges rule on whether the veterans can sue the Ministry of Defence for negligence.

The occasion also saw the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) hand over its old memorial standard which will go on permanent display in Portsmouth Cathedral.

Wreaths were laid on the BNTVA’s memorial stone in the cathedral grounds.

Les Gosling, 74, of Fratton, said: ‘People from all over the country have come to Portsmouth to remember those in the tests.

‘It’s nice for us to come together like this but it’s a sad occasion too because we are remembering the people who are no longer with us.’

Around 1,000 atomic test veterans are trying to claim compensation for exposure to radiation in the Pacific Ocean and Maralinga in Australia, between 1952 and 1967.

Many of the veterans have suffered cancer and other illnesses which they say was caused by the bomb testing.

David Riley, 72, of Milton, served in the Royal Engineers at Christmas Island for 12 months in 1958 when five bomb tests were conducted.

He said: ‘Many of us have got health problems and a lot of it goes back to the testing we were doing. I’ve had quite a few operations and now I’m living off just half a kidney.’

Derek Fiddaman, 74, from Horsham, was serving on the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Cossack close to Christmas Island during a bomb test.

He said he’s had more than 200 operations for skin cancer since problems began in 1975.

He added: ‘I’ve made over 1,000 visits to hospital. Can you imagine how much of a strain that has been?’

It emerged this week that the MoD, which denies responsibility for the men’s illnesses, has spent £5m on legal fees trying to stop compensation cases going to court. The MoD wants the claims to be struck out under the Limitation Act because they did not sue within three years of injury, or within three years of discovery of injury.

Following years of court hearings and appeals, seven Supreme Court judges will sit next month to consider whether the men and their families can bring legal action against the MoD. The three-and-a-half day hearing starts in London on November 13.

BNTVA vice-chairman Jeff Liddiatt said: ‘If we win it’ll mean we can start real High Court action, but that will take another two or three years to get to court. It won’t be the end. It’s just the start of a long, long, road.’