UK Atomic Weapons tests in the 1950s and '60s exposed British ex-Servicemen (mostly conscripts) to radioactive contamination at test sites in Australia and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Pacific Ocean. Some men were ordered to witness the test explosions; some had to clean up afterwards. Many have died of cancer. Their children and grandchildren have high rates of birth defects (see here or here).
Other nuclear powers give automatic compensation to their own test veterans. Britain does not (see this UK Parliamentary briefing, January 2013).
Since 2002 LLRC has been helping UK Veterans obtain pensions through the courts. The first was a Royal Air Force driver at the Antler series of tests at Maralinga, Australia, in 1957. After he died from a malignant brain tumour in 1999 his widow applied for a war widow’s pension on the basis that the cancer was caused by the radioactive fallout. Her application was refused because the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said exposures at Maralinga, which did not register on the men's film badge dosimeters, were too low to have caused the cancer. She asked LLRC's scientific advisor Professor Chris Busby to give evidence in an appeal. At a hearing in Birmingham in 2002 Busby told the Services Pension Appeals Tribunal that the film badge doses are irrelevant because the badges only register external radiation, whereas the hazard was in the radioactive dust the men inhaled and ingested. The earlier decision was overturned and the widow got her pension. (More on this story.) By 2009 seven such appeals had been filed by people who wanted to give expert testimony. Five were upheld; the other two are unresolved.
Busby's expert evidence constitutes a fatal attack on the credibility of the ICRP - the International Commission on Radiological Protection - whose advice is followed by governments all over the world. See this summary, published in The Guardian and never answered.
The MoD is clearly frightened. In 2008 Tribunal Judge Hugh Stubbs wrote about Professor Busby in his Decision on one of the appeals:
Professor Busby ... is a distinguished scientist [...]his evidence is both cogent and reliable and raises a reasonable doubt that the Secretary of State's views ... are wrong. (read more of H.H. Stubbs comments).
In 2010 the MoD reacted by cancelling over a dozen appeal hearings including the two unresolved cases mentioned above. They were all put into a collective case to be heard in London. Rosenblatt Solicitors represented them.
Over the next two years Busby fought it out on paper against the MoD experts producing twelve reports. But in 2011 Rosenblatt pulled out of representing the veterans. They were replaced by Hogan Lovells, one of the largest law firms in the world, based in America and the UK.
In January 2013, just two weeks before the hearing, Hogan Lovells dropped Busby and all his reports and brought in their own expert witness, Professor Paddy Regan. All the appeals were denied. Two of the veterans immediately appealed against the decision, arguing that Hogan Lovells, who were supposed to be acting for them, didn't tell them they were dumping Busby’s evidence until it was too late to do anything. The judge, Hugh Stubbs, allowed the appeal to go forward to the Upper Court.
We recruited a team to share the work of supporting the veterans and their families in court. They are Chris Busby, London barrister Hugo Charlton, Robbie Manson, a solicitor from Wales, and Captain Andrew Ades MBE from Cornwall who has long experience as a lay advocate representing service personnel in appeal cases. The group's clerical base is Dai Williams, a researcher from Woking. All five have worked on this case for nothing, sometimes not even getting their expenses.
In July 2015 the team appeared before the Upper Court. The MoD's lawyers argued that Busby was not a proper expert and that his evidence should have been ignored. In the meantime Hugh Stubbs had died but the new Judge, Sir William Charles, agreed that Busby is an expert. During three days in the witness box Busby presented evidence showing that the current radiation risk model of ICRP is flawed and that low doses of internal radiation are more dangerous than ICRP predicts. The MoD's lawyers also used a second argument - that Busby is an “activist” on behalf of the vets. Under British case law such activism is seen as bias and bars him from giving expert evidence.
The judge allowed the appeal and sent the case back to a new Tribunal. At the same time he ruled that Busby could not give evidence as an expert witness in the new case. But the MOD's attempt to exclude Busby has exploded in their faces because he can, nevertheless, be an advocate for the veterans. So during the next phase the person interrogating the MoD's experts has more expertise than they do.
The new case began in December 2015 in the Royal Courts of Justice. Busby led for the appellants before a High Court judge, Sir Nicholas Blake. He provided Statements of Claim and asked for the MoD to be forced to disclose secret information relating the fallout from the tests. This was granted, and the University of Dundee was also required to release previously-withheld evidence from a study of veterans' health. Busby's team has analysed the data.
The judge agreed with his predecessor's opinion of Busby's expertise; in his Decision Sir Nicholas wrote:
Dr Busby who now represents the appellants Battersby and Smith raises a number of new points not previously determined. . . . . . Uranium and other elements released by detonation are a source of risk by means that are not identified in conventional measurement. . . The International Radiation Protection Authority’s guidance on the safe maxima is insufficient to screen out all risks to human health arising for explosions of the kind undertaken at Maralinga and Christmas Island.
The main hearings will be in the Royal Courts of Justice during three weeks in June 2016.
In this enterprise, our small resources have been pitched against the Secretary of State for Defence. This is not only about money, it's about power, control of official records, and intimidation exercised in the name of the Official Secrets Act. On our side we have the grit of a handful of aging men - none of them rich.
We need £20,000 to continue. We have to pay for massive amounts of photocopying and clerical work. During the three weeks of the Tribunal hearings we have to pay for travel and accommodation for the legal team, three lay witnesses, and four expert witnesses from Japan, Germany, Ireland and Britain.
£20,000 is more than double LLRC's usual annual budget. Since we launched this funding appeal in February 2016 we have raised over £12,000.
Click here to see and download a printable A4-folded leaflet.