Politics

Justice for nuclear test veterans as Labour pledges cash payouts to servicemen

Labour today vows to deliver justice for nuclear test veterans.

The party’s manifesto will include a pledge to pay a £50,000 lump sum to the 1,500 ex-servicemen still alive.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry will tell delegates at the Labour conference on Monday of their duty “to correct the injustices of the past.”

Justice is finally within sight for our forgotten nuclear test veterans after a decades-long struggle.

About 1,500 of the 22,000 servicemen exposed to radiation during trials from 1952 to 1991 are thought to still be alive, most of them now in their 80s.


And Labour today vows to pay each one a £50,000 lump sum – a total of £75million.

The pledge will go in their election manifesto and if they take power and deliver, it will be the most generous settlement to nuclear veterans anywhere in the world.

The Mirror began campaigning 35 years ago, when veterans realised many of their children were being born with deformities.

In 2002, then editor Richard Stott asked: “How many more generations will our politicians allow to suffer before they accept the calamities of their predecessors?”

Now, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry will tell Labour’s conference the veterans are “men to whom we owe a huge debt”, adding: “It is not just our role to fight against the injustices we see today but also to correct the injustices of the past.”

Ms Thornberry writes for us today about how the long suffering of the families convinced her that official recognition was long overdue.

"And when she addresses delegates, she will praise the Mirror “for fighting so hard and for so long to win justice for those brave servicemen”.


The pledge has been signed off by leader Jeremy Corbyn , Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith – who met veterans in Parliament last year.

Deputy leader Tom Watson, who has led the campaign for the veterans to get a medal, said: “This provides a long overdue recognition. It’s now time for the other major parties to follow Labour’s lead.”

Alan Owen, chairman of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, said: “This is the first time someone who might form a government has stood up and acknowledged us. It is now on the agenda for everyone else.”

Comic and TV historian Al Murray, an honorary BNTVA member, added: “This is just the start. We want war pensions for the widows, help for descendants and a medal so they can finally stand at ease.”

Many in the tests were on National Service and told they were going on an exotic posting. In fact, it was the biggest tri-service military operation since D-Day.

The government carried out hundreds of explosions of atom bombs, fissile material, trigger devices and thermonuclear weapons in the US, Australia and South Pacific.

The biggest bomb, 1958’s Operation Grapple Y, was 112 times more powerful than those that levelled Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan.

Servicemen were ordered to watch blasts, sail and crawl through radioactive fallout to test its effects and fly through mushroom clouds on sampling missions.

They also lived at the testing sites for a year or more.

After returning, they began dying from cancers and rare blood disorders.

Their wives had three times the normal rate of miscarriages and their children suffered 10 times the normal rate of birth defects.


Problems included spinal deformities, transposed organs, heart defects and sterility.

There are an estimated 155,000 descendants who suffer elevated rates of anxiety, depression and disability – as well as having to care for relatives.

Last year, we revealed documents that proved RAF pilot Eric Denson was exposed to 165 years’ worth of background radiation in six minutes.

He killed himself in 1976 after years of crippling headaches and wife Shirley campaigns on behalf of other widows.

Despite genetic research proving in 2007 that veterans had the same rate of damage as clean-up workers at Chernobyl, the UK stands alone among the nuclear powers in denying atomic survivors recognition.

The Ministry of Defence fights every war pension and court claim, and has never apologised or honoured the men who helped deliver our nuclear arsenal.

But the Labour vow means civil servants could finally have to deliver justice. And sources say Labour would also look into honouring widows, children and veterans who died before recognition.

A Government medal committee, formed this year after massive support from Mirror readers, will consider the test veterans’ case before Christmas.

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