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DNA tests for UK’s nuclear bomb veterans

21st February 2018

It has been announced that British servicemen who were exposed to atomic radiation as part of military tests in 1950’s will undergo DNA tests to determine whether they have sustained recognised genetic changes as a result.

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The “Atomic Vets” – as they have come to be referred to – have been pursuing claims against the MOD for may years and were subject to a group action which was effectively halted by the Supreme Court in 2012 (AB & others v The Ministry of Defence (2012) where their case was dismissed on the grounds that it was out of time. The judges did not make a firm ruling on whether the Vets’ various alleged conditions were attributable to radiation exposure during the atomic testing but (briefly) considered if the Claimant’s could prove that their injuries had been caused by radiation exposure, albeit without the benefit of a full trial.

Lord Wilson commented on this in his judgment:

156. The most that the veterans as a group are currently in a position to establish is that there is a possibility that some of them were exposed to a raised, albeit low level, of fall-out radiation and that this may have increased the risk of contracting some at least of the injuries in respect of which they claim. This falls well short of establishing causation.”

As the evidence of a link between the testing and any injuries was weak, the Court decided not to exercise it’s discretion and to allow the Vets to bring their claims out of time. The Court did recognise that there were reports of a chromosomal relocation in  some New Zealand Vets but considered this to be insufficient. Hopefully a more extensive and robust series of DNA tests will help the UK Vets to overcome some of these problems and reopen their access to justice.



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