UK

Nuclear test veterans in new court bid

Nuclear tests
Image caption Nuclear testing was carried out on Christmas Island in the South Pacific

Veterans involved in Britain's nuclear weapons tests between 1952 and 1958 are beginning the latest stage in their battle for compensation.

More than 1,000 ex-servicemen say exposure to radiation has led to ill-health, such as cancer.

Their cases have been taken to London's Supreme Court where veterans are arguing for their right to claim damages from the Ministry of Defence.

The MoD acknowledges a "debt of gratitude" but denies negligence.

James Dingemans QC, for the veterans, told Supreme Court justices the MoD's stance was "hopeless".

The men - involved in nuclear tests on Christmas Island and in the Pacific Ocean between 1952 and 1958 - have been fighting for the right to launch damages claims for two years.

Outlining the legal arguments, Mr Dingemans told the panel: "The MoD has denied and continues to deny... with a few recorded exceptions, that these persons have been exposed to radiation.

"We will submit that this, on the evidence, is hopeless."

He said there had been "no clear" identification of some risks and "medical knowledge" had developed and allowed experts to link "many more" cases.

Ten "lead" claimants were told their claims could go ahead by High Court judges in 2009.

'Statute-barred'

But the MoD appealed, and last year the Court of Appeal ruled against veterans, blocking nine of the 10 claims. The judges said they were "statute-barred" because they had been made too late.

The judges also declined to exercise their powers of discretion because they said the veterans lacked evidence about the causes of illnesses.

Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was given after a hearing in July.

Lawyers are now trying to persuade the Supreme Court justices to overrule the Court of Appeal and allow all 10 "lead" claims to go ahead.

This week's hearing is due to last three days but the panel - made up of Lord Phillips, Lord Walker, Lady Hale, Lord Brown, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson - is likely to reserve judgment to a later date.

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