During the past three weeks I have republished five of my newspaper articles written while I was working as an investigative journalist in Scotland and North East England. The first looked at the likely governmental conspiracy over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 another at the secrecy of the Bilderberg organisation, a third was a piece about the top secret Aurora aircraft, the fourth looked at big cats at large in the UK and the last was an investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist leader Willie McRae.
Today I reload a piece I wrote in early 1995 about the extent of 40-year cover-up on exposure of British servicemen to A-bomb tests
THE extent of a 40-year cover-up of the radiation exposure suffered by 22,000 servicemen who witnessed Britain’s atom bomb tests in the 1950s has been revealed in a file of de-classified and secret Government documents.
They demonstrate a willingness to ignore or conceal the impact of 21 British nuclear tests between 1952 and 1958 on the part of then Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
When asked to consider the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Mr Eden says, in a memo dated November 16, 1955: ”A pity, but we cannot help it.”
The documents were passed to The Herald just two days after an English nuclear test victim won his 25-year battle with defence chiefs for a pension following intervention by the High Court, two months after three Scottish victims won a legal breakthrough in the European courts.
Last Friday, the Rev Laurence Deverall, 60 — who was exposed to radiation in the 1956 Maralinga tests in South Australia — won his case for a disability war pension.
Mr Deverall developed cancer in his right leg as a result of the radiation exposure. His leg was amputated in 1970.
Mr Ken McGinley, chairman of the Johnstone-based British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association, said the case was the first major breakthrough on Government liability.
On January 27, Scots-born US advocate, Mr Ian Anderson, won the first stage regarding admissibility of evidence in a test case before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of two nuclear test veterans and the 27-year-old daughter of a third Glaswegian victim — all members of the veterans’ association.
Now the file of more than 40 secret and de-classified memorandums passed to The Herald could add weight to hundreds of compensation cases being fought by the veterans’ association on behalf of its 3500 members.
CONSPIRACY theories are easy to wrap around any secret Government activity, and easier for those adversely affected to accept.
But for a Government to conspire knowingly to cause physical harm to 22,000 of its own citizens in the name of science is a more difficult scenario to believe.
The extent of a 40-year cover-up of the radiation exposure suffered by 22,000 servicemen who witnessed Britain’s atom bomb tests between 1952 and 1958, is now being revealed.
A file of secret and declassified official documents has been passed to me just two days after an English nuclear test victim won a 25-year pension battle with defence chiefs, and two months since three Scottish victims won a legal breakthrough in the European courts.
Mr Ken McGinley, the chairman of Johnstone-based British Nuclear Tests Veterans’ Association is damning: ”There has been a cover-up on a massive scale — it is more to do with personal sensitivity than anything else, as many of the Government scientists involved in the tests are still alive, while many of our members who served their country loyally have died or are dying from incurable cancers and other life-threatening diseases.”
The documents speak for themselves:
”We think it likely that the Australians will ask us for filters which have been flown at Mosaic and Buffalo,” said British Government scientist Sir William Penney in a secret memo to Sir Frederick Brundrett at the MoD on December 22, 1955 — five months before the first of the code-named A-Bomb tests took place in the Monte Bello Islands and Maralinga Desert.
”While I am not very keen on giving them samples, I do not see how we can refuse,” continued Sir William. ”I am recommending that, if they ask us, we give them a little piece of the filters, but we wait a few days so that some of the short-lived isotopes have decayed a good deal.”
The extent of the cover-up becomes more apparent in a wired memo from Admiral Brooking at the British Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston to the Australian Government in May 1957.
”May we please have your authority to include the following sentence about Buffalo in the openly published report 1956/57 of the UKAEA: The Australian Safety Committee made a careful check of conditions before and after the firing of every round, and was satisfied that no hazard to the people or stock of Australia was caused by any of the explosions at Monte Bello or Maralinga.”
In 1993, the British Government finally agreed to pay the Australian Government #20m as the first instalment to clean up the radioactive pollution at Maralinga.
A letter from Sir William Penney to Sir Edwin Plowden, of October 1, 1955, refers to the planned tests at Monte Bello the following summer, and says health and safety precautions were fixed for a 25 kiloton blast for ”the first shot” and 80 kilotons at the second.
He adds: ”We do not know exactly what the yield is going to be because the assembly is very different from anything we have tried before.”
As it turned out, the ”first shot” on May 16, 1956, gave a yield of just 15 kilotons, but the second a massive 98 kilotons and, with the winds drifting the fall-out cloud, it was virtually uncontrolled.
Another top-secret memo to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, dated May 20 — seven months after the first atom bomb test at Monte Bello and five months before the second at Emu Field, South Australia — gives evidence of the official intention.
It says: ”The Army must discover the detailed effects of the various types of explosion on equipment, stores, and men with and without various types of protection.”
The complicity is pivotal in one memo dated November 16, 1955, from British Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
Asked to consider the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Mr Eden says: ”A pity, but we cannot help it.”
Yet the risks to health from radiation exposure were known at the highest level.
In minutes from the Government’s Advisory Council in 1947 on Scientific Policy, Sir Ernest Rock Carling said that resulting injuries from exposure to radiation ”were frequently not traced to radiation since there might be a lag of months or years before the effects were manifest.
”Carelessness might also have serious genetic effects on the population, resulting in sterility or mutations.”
In 1951, the Government warned that: ”Casualties may not become apparent at once. There are at present only two forms of protection against radiation, viz distance and/or some form of shielding.”
The first British nuclear test at Monte Bello took place a year later. For that and 20 further tests, British service personnel stood part-naked or wearing flimsy cotton overalls on beaches and ship decks between five and 11 miles from each blast.