The British military started conducting atmospheric tests involving nuclear weapons around Christmas Island in 1957. Independent UK experiments stopped after the initial tests were carried out but Operation Grapple continued until 1962 as a joint exercise between the British and American forces.
20,000 servicemen were involved in the exercises and 2,500 of them were British. Last year, the Appeal Court rejected nine of the ten test cases brought against the Ministry of Defence for personal injury compensation lodged by veterans involved in the Operation.
Ken McKinley was one of the servicemen involved. He suffered similar health problems to other servicemen involved in the Christmas Island tests, including cysts, infertility and skin conditions.
However, Section 10 of 1947 Crown Proceedings Act exempted the Crown from personal injury claims caused by the British Armed Forces to other members of the Services. This ruling was since suspended in 1987.
In 2009, the High Court in London granted permission for 1,000 soldiers, including Mr McKinley, to sue for personal injury compensation.
Mr Sampson, a personal injury solicitor acting for the servicemen, said he hoped the MoD would settle out of court and reward the veterans with the compensation they deserve. However, the Appeal Court ruling now makes this unlikely.
In making their determination, the Appeal Court judges said it would be hard to prove that the nuclear tests were directly responsible for the illnesses and they supported the Ministry of Defence’s position that cases had to be brought within a three year time limit.
The team of personal injury lawyers working on behalf of the veterans are already planning to take their case to the Supreme Court if their present action is unsuccessful.