23 Jan 2009

Britain's defence ministry rebukes veterans claims

8:06 am on 23 January 2009

The British defence ministry has tried to rebuke a compensation claim by hundreds of British, New Zealand and Fiji veterans of nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1950s.

On the second day of a landmark hearing at the High Court in London, the government responded to assertions the veterans became ill as a result of radiation exposure.

Ben Lowings reports from London.

"The government has opened its defence, with submissions from Charles Gibson QC. He acknowledged that the ministry of defence owed the servicemen a debt of gratitude for their participation in the tests. But he said the lawyers for the claimants had misconstrued the law. Central to the claim is a Massey University study that links radiation exposure to genetic damage. But Mr Gibson told the judge, Mr Justice Foskett, that the evidence did not come remotely close to proving that the veterans' exposure to radiation had led to their ill health. The court also heard that the action could not proceed because it had been launched outside the legal time limit -- which is three years after the alleged injury. Several veterans are expected to be cross-examined during the three-week hearing. Veterans crowded into the courtroom again -- and Mr Gibson warned that when some of them are called to give evidence, the atmosphere could become highly charged and emotional."