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Thorpe veteran welcomes discovery of secret atomic test document

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 January 2011

David Freeman, of Norwich, who witnessed a nuclear explosion on Christmas Island.

David Freeman, of Norwich, who witnessed a nuclear explosion on Christmas Island.

Eastern Daily Press © 2001

An RAF veteran who was a guinea pig in atomic tests has today welcomed the discovery of a top-secret document which has finally proved that servicemen were knowingly exposed to radiation during the tests.

David Freeman, 72, pictured, from Thorpe St Andrew, was one of about 23,000 servicemen to take part in the tests on Christmas Island in the South Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s and is convinced the tests ruined his health and that of his family.

For years he has campaigned, together with other British veterans, for compensation following the tests which the servicemen say has resulted in ill health, including cancer, skin defects and fertility problems.

For decades successive governments have denied any harm was caused to the servicemen ordered to witness the tests, saying that the explosions were to test the weapons, not their effect on humans, and the men were at a safe distance. But a draft press release written before tests in Australia in 1956, now uncovered in the National Archives, backs test veteran’s claims that they were used as “guinea pigs” by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in its race to build an atomic bomb.

The document, which was discovered by veteran David Wilson, 74, from Shropshire, who served as an RAF clerk at Christmas Island during two bomb blasts, states: “The possible effects of the ingestion of radioactive fallout (by men and animals) will be among the subjects studied.”

It has the words “by men and animals” crossed out in pencil, and the version that was actually released mentions only sheep and small animals.

Mr Freeman said he welcomed the finding of the document and hoped that it might help in the veterans’ long-running fight for justice. He said: “I’m pleased that something like this has come to light. Any little detail we can get which helps our cause is more than welcome.”

Mr Freeman, from Birbeck Way, Thorpe St Andrew, who was told to stand with his back to an aeroplane as it flew 30 miles out over the ocean and dropped an atomic bomb, said he was concerned about the effect the tests might have on his family.

Many servicemen have blamed their ill-health on involvement in the nuclear tests between 1952 and 1958 and in June 2009 High Court judge Mr Justice Foskett ruled that 10 test cases out of 1,011 claims could proceed to full trial.

But last year they received a setback in the courts after the MoD won the bulk of its appeal against a ruling which allowed test veterans to claim damages.

The MoD, while acknowledging its “debt of gratitude”, denies negligence and fought the cases on the preliminary point that they were all launched outside the legal time limit. But despite the setback, Mr Freeman said solicitors are still looking to pursue the case. He said: “We fill fight it in the supreme court if we have to.”

■ Have you had a long-running battle for compensation? Call Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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