Colne woman’s legal battle to prove husband’s ‘nuclear tests’ death

Mauris Steven
Mauris Steven

A COLNE grandmother is fighting a legal battle for compensation, claiming her husband died from radiation poisoning after taking part in nuclear weapons tests more than 50 years ago.

Mrs Meryl Stevens, of Dudley Road, is one of a thousand atomic veterans from across the country seeking recognition and compensation from the government. Their case is due to be brought before the Supreme Court in April.

Meryl’s husband Mauris was just 19 when he was posted to Christmas Island as an emergency replacement accounts clerk in 1960.

Meryl said: “By the time he got out there all the nuclear weapons tests had already taken place, so the site restrictions had been removed and he and his colleagues were given free reign of the island. They would go all over in the Jeep and were completely exposed to the radiation.”

On his return, Mauris was posted to RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire where he met Meryl and the couple married in February 1963.

Meryl said: “By 1972, when he was in his 30s, Mauris was already feeling the effects of the radiation. His feet were so swollen he was unable to get slippers on his feet.”

Mauris was diagnosed with acute arthritis and his symptoms gradually worsened. He also developed a ringworm-type rash all over his body.

By 2002 his condition had deteriorated and he saw a specialist at Christie Hospital, Manchester. Meryl said: “They carried out X-rays and discovered his arthritis had been misdiagnosed and actually he suffered from cancer of the bone marrow.” Mauris died in 2004 from Lymphoplasmacytoid Lymphoma.

Meryl said: “There is a direct link between this condition and exposure to radiation, I am convinced my husband died after being exposed to atomic radiation on Christmas Island.

“The problem is that radiation affects different people in different ways so not all of the atomic veterans suffer in the same way as Mauris did.”

Meryl is calling on the Government to acknowledge Mauris’ illness was caused by radiation poisoning. In 2009, High Court judge Justice Foskett ruled the ill soldiers deserved their day in court.

But the Government appealed the decision and won and the case is now being taken to the Supreme court.

Speaking on behalf of claimants, Mr Neil Sampson, of Rosenblatt Solicitors, said “The Court of Appeal ruled nine out of the 10 lead case cases were out of time but the court ordered the remaining 1,002 claims should proceed.

“We have applied for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal decision so all the cases can proceed to a full trial.

“We hope that by April the Supreme Court will have reached a decision to allow the appeal to proceed which we hope will result in hearing by the end of this year.

“In any event it is hoped the High Court will give directions for the continuation of the other 1,002 cases within the next few months.

“Claimants are dying at a rate of three a month so the sooner the Government stops wasting time and money on procedural issues and allows a judge to finally decide the matter the happier the claimants will be.”

Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson has given his support to veterans fighting for compensation.

He said: “I have spoken to a few veterans from Pendle who have been affected and have been in contact with the government minister responsible about the matter.

“A lot of the information on the subject is classified so I think the first step has to be to declassify the files relating to these soldiers so we can find out more about the events surrounding the nuclear tests.”

Meryl said: “I don’t know whether Mauris will get the recognition he deserves in my lifetime. All I can hope is that one day the Government turns around and gives atomic veterans the recognition they deserve.”