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For decades the MoD has denied using unwitting servicemen as “guinea pigs” in radiation experiments during the race to build a nuclear bomb.
But the widow of one Cold War pilot has blown that claim apart after obtaining secret documents that show he was sent to fly through the cloud of an atomic explosion in a deadly experiment.
And Shirley Denson, 83, said husband Eric had such a massive dose of radiation to his head in the 1958 flight he suffered crippling headaches and later killed himself. Two of their four daughters were born with abnormalities as were some grandchildren.
Shirley Denson, the widow of Eric Denson, has seen her family suffer because of what her husband went through before he killed himself
The papers show Eric, 24, was exposed to 65 years’ worth of normal background radiation, or 17,500 dental X-rays, during just six minutes spent flying through the cloud at Christmas Island in the Pacific.
Shirley said of the documents – which chillingly showed the Tory Government knew there was a risk to the men’s children: “It’s absolutely wicked. It’s evil. To see it in black and white after all these years took my breath away. It seems our government used and abused its own men.
“It makes me furious to think it was done on purpose, that my Eric mattered so little to them.”
A shot of one of the bombs tested on Christmas Island
British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association chairman Alan Owen said: “This is the first time in all our years of campaigning we have ever found evidence this strong.
“Our members always believed they were guinea pigs and this appears to prove some of them were, at best, collateral damage in horrifying experiments. We need to know everything, now.”
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, who is backing the Mirror campaign to give a medal to the veterans of the nuclear tests – which started in 1952 – added: “This is a shocking document the MoD cannot wriggle out of.
Eric Denson flew through a mushroom cloud in 1958
“We need answers about what experiments were conducted, and how many of the 22,000 nuke vets were involved in them. The Defence Secretary should come to the Commons and issue an unqualified apology to Mrs Denson.”
Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: “These are deeply worrying revelations which must be investigated by the MoD.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth added: “This is an absolute scandal.”
Shirley with husband Eric Denson, an RAF hero whose descedants have suffered as a result of his experiences
Shirley, of Morden, South London, was handed the papers by the MoD.
Eric flew his converted Canberra B6 bomber into the mushroom cloud of a 2.8 megaton nuclear explosion on April 28, with X-ray badges on his seat to measure radiation. It was the most deadly weapon Britain has ever fired.
The papers said “care was taken to ensure as little shielding effect as possible” was given to the badges – and thus the crew. Immediately after the tests, Eric suffered vomiting and a rash, symptoms of radiation poisoning.
The bombers which transported the nuclear armaments for the tests
But within 48 hours he was ordered to fly the plane again. The paper states those who received a dose of radiation between 10 Roentgen and 25 must not be exposed again for three years.
Eric’s dose of 18.8R meant he should have been protected. It was the biggest of the three-man crew.
One of the badges was placed near his groin. The document added: “Testicular badges: The very significantly lower levels are of interest and cheer in relation to the possibility of genetic damage.”
An English Electric Canberra B6 Bomber Aircraft 12th March 1956
Eric and Shirley had already had one healthy daughter before the nuclear experiments. The Mirror found birth defects or unexplained medal conditions in 37% of their descendants, including skull deformities and spinal problems. Eric killed himself in 1976.
Shirley also backed the Mirror’s call for medals. She said: “It’s the least they could do. I was left a widow with four children to raise.”
But the MoD said: “It is not true to say these men were subject to an experiment to look at the effects of radiation.
The tests were used as part of the development of nuclear armaments
“The British nuclear testing programme contributed towards keeping our country secure during the Cold War and regular health checks were conducted throughout.
“The National Radiological Protection Board has carried out three studies of nuclear test veterans and found no valid evidence to link this programme to ill health.”
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Our 16-year drive to get justice for forgotten victims
The Mirror has campaigned for recognition for the veterans since 2002, the 50th anniversary of the first British bomb test.
Every other nuclear power on Earth gives some recognition or compensation to its nuke vets, including Russia, China and the USA. Britain is alone in refusing to admit harm was likely.
The Mirror has reported on UK vets who won compensation from other countries, the families of scientists and servicemen who claim to have been harmed by radiation, and a series of court battles.
In 2007 DNA research showed the New Zealand veterans had the same rate of genetic damage as survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and a British study showed the children had 10 times the normal rate of birth defects.
A year later the Isle of Man Tynwald voted to give £6,000 to each of its veterans to help with their care needs and in 2009 France announced it was “time to be true to its conscience” and unveiled a £9m compensation package for its nuke vets.
The same year, 10 British and Fijian vets and widows took the Ministry of Defence to the High Court, and won the right to sue it for criminal negligence.
The MoD appealed and in 2012 all but one claim was thrown out. That one could not proceed for lack of funds.
In 2015 Fiji said it would pay £3,000 to its survivors and called on Britain to do the same.
A group war pension appeal was launched with help from the Royal British Legion but failed in the Appeal Court after judges ruled there was no proof the men were irradiated.
In 2016, we reported that the veterans intended to use a £1m grant from the Aged Veterans’ Fund to pay for their own genetic research. Earlier this year we revealed that researchers were struggling to find enough subjects to test.
Sign the veterans’ petition to trigger a debate in parliament here.
Can I leave you with this before I retire for the night? Who do you think penned these lines?
Barbara Hewson, you claim I am anti-Semitic because I called out ‘Lord’ Janner for buggery (the word used by the CPS) yet you never berated your closest ally Simon Just of Kendal for being in cahoots with this woman: