Welcome for nuclear tests inquiry call

Veterans last night welcomed East Anglian MPs' calls for an inquiry into links between British nuclear tests in the 1950s and health problems suffered by military personnel.

Veterans last night welcomed East Anglian MPs' calls for an inquiry into links between British nuclear tests in the 1950s and health problems suffered by military personnel.

The move comes following the release of a new study which lawyers fighting for compensation for veterans, who claim they developed illnesses following tests in the South Pacific, have hailed as "groundbreaking".

Research conducted by Professor Al Rowland of Massey University in New Zealand concludes that alterations found in that country's veterans' chromosomes could be attributed to their participation in the tests, codenamed Operation Grapple.

Norwich North MP Labour Ian Gibson said he and John Baron, Conservative MP for Billericay, were planning on calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the trials.

Commenting on the report, Dr Gibson said: "I met Prof Rowland when I was in New Zealand and asked him to send me the report. We really need a similar thing for this country."

There were a total of 40,000 servicemen and civilians at the UK tests in Australia and Christmas Island, 22,000 of them from Britain and the rest from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

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The East Anglian branch of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association has about 40 members.

Successive UK governments have denied veterans' claims that they were exposed to significant doses of radio-active material which has directly led to many of them contracting severe illnesses, including cancers, according to law firm Rosenblatt Solicitors.

Mervyn Fudge, acting on behalf of the veterans, said: "We have been awaiting the publication of this groundbreaking research for some time and we are delighted that it has now been published. It is a very significant piece of research and will very much strengthen the veterans' claims for compensation.

"The research supports the veterans that they were exposed to radiation and as a result of that exposure they received substantial effects on their chromosomes.

"We're delighted to have parliamentary support and the veterans are pleased at the interest on their behalf. While they would like a public inquiry it would take such a long time that with an ageing cohort it would delay compensation."

The firm is acting on behalf of more than 700 British Veterans, together with their New Zealand and Fijian colleagues. The British are claiming damages for the exposure to radiation and the serious conditions that have stemmed from that exposure.

A Group Litigation Order is expected to be granted shortly together with directions for the progress of the action.

The new study was designed to ascertain the genetic status of New Zealand military personnel who took part in Operation Grapple in 1957-58.

The results of two of three "assays" showed veterans did not exhibit any deficiency in their DNA repair mechanisms.

But the third one showed "a very high frequency of total translocations in the veterans' chromosomes, as opposed to a matched control group".

Professor Rowland said: "We would encourage those in authority to initiate research to corroborate our findings by conducting a similar study on British and Fijian personnel who also took part in Operation Grapple."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "The MoD remains open to new scientific or medical evidence concerning nuclear test veterans and we are reviewing the findings of this latest study.

"Previous independent reports have concluded that there is no evidence of excess illness or mortality among the veterans as a group which could be linked to their participation in the tests or exposure to radiation."

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