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Nuclear veterans lose damages bid

British ex-servicemen who say they became ill as a result of being exposed to radiation during 1950s nuclear weapon tests in the Pacific have lost the latest round of a legal battle for damages.

But lawyers and relatives said the fight would go on and urged ministers to set up a compensation scheme.

More than 1,000 veterans want compensation and have been battling for permission to launch damages claims for more than two years. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is contesting veterans' complaints and denies negligence.

Veterans say they were exposed to fallout radiation from tests and say that exposure caused illness, disability or death. The MoD denies both "exposure" and "causation".

The Supreme Court, the UK's highest court, has ruled in the MoD's favour after the latest round of litigation and said the majority of claims could not proceed. A panel of seven Supreme Court justices had analysed evidence at a hearing in London in November and ruled against veterans by a 4-3 majority.

Judges expressed sympathy but concluded that veterans lacked evidence to prove links between illness and proximity to tests and said many claims had been made too late. Lawyers are studying the ruling and trying to calculate how many claims will be able to proceed.

Veterans' relatives said they were disappointed by the ruling and called on ministers to step in. "The Government wouldn't lose one vote by compensating the British nuclear test veterans - in fact they'd win a lot," said Rose Clark, 71, of Romford, east London, whose husband Michael - a former soldier - died in 1992 aged 51 after contracting cancer.

Veterans' lawyer Neil Sampson said Britain should follow the lead of other countries and set up a "fair and just" compensation scheme. "The approach that this Government takes is to waste resources on fighting veterans rather than co-operating with them," he said. "There are some things in life that are wrong. The approach of the Government to this issue is one of those things."

The MoD issued a statement in which a spokesman said: "The Ministry of Defence recognises the debt of gratitude we have to the servicemen who took part in the nuclear tests. They were important tests that helped to keep this nation secure at a difficult time in terms of nuclear technology.

"The Supreme Court ruled today in favour of the MoD that the claims brought by Nuclear Test Veterans were time barred and declined to allow the claims to proceed under the statutory discretion. Perhaps of greater significance is that all the justices recognised that the veterans would face great difficulty proving a causal link between illnesses suffered and attendance at the tests. The Supreme Court described the claims as having no reasonable prospect of success and that they were doomed to fail."

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