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The £100m fallout - Court decision due, but 'too little' cash - HBomb testing Christmas Island

THE PEOPLE.CO.UK - Sarah Jellema

Furious H-bomb veterans whose lives have been blighted by nuclear testing are finally set to get answers - after 50 YEARS of waiting. More than 20,000 British servicemen were exposed to terrifying levels of radioactivity during nuke tests between 1952 and 1958 And their appalling legacy was lives and families plagued by killer illnesses, deformities, miscarriages and birth defects.

But defence chiefs have always refused to accept the tests in Australia and on Christmas Island in the Pacific wreaked havoc among UK personnel. Now a High Court ruling could force the Government to hand over more than £100million to the 3,000 veterans still living. Heroes That averages out at little more than £30,000 each. But experts fear it's too little, too late. And they point to world powers like Russia, who treat veterans as heroes and lavish them with medals, pensions and specialist health care. America has paid out nearly £1billion in compensation to victims.

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker - whose constituents in Lewes, East Sussex, include several veterans - said: "There is a suspicion the MoD has been deliberately stringing this out so that fewer and fewer people may qualify. I think there's a general delaying tactic that is unethical and callous.

"It doesn't reflect well on the Government that we are lagging so far behind other countries.

"What must come from the pending judgment is justice and peace of mind." And the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association - who represent the victims - claims military chiefs callously used the troops as guinea pigs to study the effects of radiation on humans.

Bntva member Douglas Hern told how he was poisoned by fallout while serving with the Royal Navy on Christmas Island in 1957. Twenty years later, he lost his daughter Jill to a rare form of cancer - when she was 13. Douglas, 72, said: "I attribute it to the fact I was contaminated by radioactivity. We ate radiation, we drank radiation, we bathed in it. We were practically at Ground Zero." A 1999 survey of veterans found soaring sterility and bone problems among their children. And spina bifida rates among grandchildren were five times higher than the UK average.

Douglas, from Moulton, Lincs, added: "Thousands of children are affected - and the Government doesn't want to know." But he vowed: "They won't get away with it." The MoD backs its stance by insisting the compo claims were made too long after the event.

But the High Court ruling - due any day - could remove the "limitation" defence, allowing claims to be made from those still paying the price half a century later. Nearly 1,000 of the veterans are represented by top London legal firm Rosenblatt Solicitors.

Partner Clive Hyer said: "Many have died from cancers, bone degeneration and other illnesses attributable to radiation or fallout exposure.

"We hope to persuade the MoD to allow them to receive the compensation they deserve." ' a te we it

Bntva official Bob Smith said his members would welcome a payout.

But he added: "Most of us just want answers. We still don't know how further generations will be affected.

"We already know it has had an effect on three generations of veterans' families. But there's no knowing how it's going to end." The MoD last night declined to comment before the High Court had made its ruling.

But officials announced last week they will link up with MPs and the veterans' association to study the health needs of victims.

Veterans Minister Kevan Jones said: "I am determined to address their ongoing concerns.

Damaged "This work will enable us to ensure they get the best care possible and identify where any improvements can be made." Labour MP Ian Gibson said: "The upcoming tests will show men who were present at the blasts were damaged in their genetic material and there is great potential some of it was passed on to their children.

Every government has dragged its feet over this, so it's nice to see MPs working across party borders to get something done." And Tory Bernard Jenkin - who sits on the Commons Defence Select Committee - agreed the MoD should now accept responsibility The MP for North Essex said: " If people's lives have been blighted by being exposed to nuclear tests it would seem the Government is liable." We Say: Page 14 sarah.jellema@people.co.uk

Doomsday Island Christmas Island is on the equator and the International Date Line 1,300 miles south of Hawaii. It is the biggest coral atoll on the planet and is part of Kiribati, which made headlines in 2000 as the first nation to see in the Millennium. Kiribati is now set for more - and grimmer - headlines. Experts say it will be the first state to be swamped by the sea through global warming..

1952 to 1957 Britain tests about 20 nuclear bombs, first in Australia and later in the skies over Christmas Island. About 20,000 servicemen are involved..

1958 to 1963 Christmas Island tests end and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament founded. Soviet Union and the West agree to ban atmospheric testing..

1964 to 2009 Underground tests run till 1992. BNTVA formed 1983. It launches fight against MoD in 1998.

High Court ruling on the battle is due in days..- won't claims ' We ate radiation, we drank radiation, we bathed in it '' ' How can our country still ignore it when the rest have acted.

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