21 Jan 2009

British court to hear Pacific nuclear test compensation case

1:52 pm on 21 January 2009

The first court hearing is due to start in London later today in a multi-million dollar compensation case brought by veterans of British nuclear weapons tests, including those in the Pacific.

The case includes hundreds of British, New Zealand and Fiji veterans who took part in the tests on Malden and Christmas Island in Kiribati in 1957 and 1958.

Ben Lowings reports from London.

"It's being billed as the veterans' day in court - and one former serviceman is flying in from Fiji for the occasion. Pita Rokovada and the other veterans are suing the British defence ministry for millions in compensation. The veterans believe they were used as guinea pigs to study the effects of radiation."

They allege that the nuclear tests they witnessed led to cancers, skin defects, fertility problems and reduced life expectancy. The British government has previously said that service personnel did not get ill as a result of radiation exposure. But the case might not get that far. Lawyers say the government will argue that the claim is being lodged too late after the alleged injuries. Last year, MPs called for a new study on the health of the veterans and

their children. The initial British compensation claim was launched in 2004.