Aborigines To Sue British Government Over Tests
Article courtesy of Adelaide Now and The Advertiser
Australian aborigines and former servicemen are to sue the British Ministry of Defence over diseases and disabilities that they claim were caused by nuclear testing in the Outback more than 50 years ago.
A group of 250 people, including 150 former servicemen, say they have suffered cancer, skin disease and deformities because of the fallout from blasts.
If they win, the British Government could be faced with a bill for compensation which will run to millions of pounds, according to lawyers for the group, which will be represented by Cherie Booth QC.
British lawyers last week travelled to South Australia, where the tests took place, to prepare the case in conjunction with the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and document the stories of people living in the area at the time of the testing.
Lawyers from London firm Hickman & Rose said the families that had come forward so far were “just the tip of the iceberg” and that they expected many more to follow.
Anna Mazzola, a partner at the firm, said that while the British had warned some white farmers that the tests were taking place, the indigenous community was largely ignored.
“The British assumed there was no one living there. But [local aborigines] lived off the land, ate the local plants and wildlife and were profoundly affected,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
“The evidence we have is that little research was carried out into the repercussions of the testing and that’s why it’s so important that they are held accountable.”
The group of 100 civilians and more than 150 former servicemen, who claim they were sent to work at the test sites with no protection or warning about the dangers, hopes to launch legal action by May.
The claim follows the lead of a class action lodged by former British servicemen also affected by radiation exposure who were granted permission to sue the government last year.
Among the Australians seeking compensation are families of the “Woomera babies” – 60 infants who died, some without explanation, during the decade of testing. Woomera lies 600km west of the test site at Maralinga and some believe the town could have been affected by fallout from the nuclear blasts.
Other alleged victims of the blasts have told of a “black mist” of fallout descending on their homes after the explosions.
In the years that followed the nuclear tests, the lawyers claim that a high number of cases of cancer, skin disease and birth deformities were recorded across several parts of South Australia.
Maureen Williams was a baby living in the remote town of Coober Pedy when the second nuclear test took place in 1953. Her family saw the “thick, black and red” mushroom cloud in the distance, but did not understand what it meant.
“It went right through our camp. Straight away people started getting sick,” she told the Adelaide Advertiser.
Ms Williams, who has joined the class action, has suffered from a skin complaint all of her life and needs ongoing treatment.
Ms Mazzola said that for many locals the consequences of the blasts were ongoing.
“We are dealing with generations of people who have been affected by radiation from the fallout and who have never had that acknowledged,” she said.
“The medical science now exists in order to prove these injuries are linked to the tests.”
Fearing the Cold War could escalate at any moment, Britain carried out seven major atomic tests and hundreds of smaller tests in Australia during the fifties and sixties.
As well as the locals already living in the vicinity of the blasts, up to 8,000 Australian soldiers were sent to Maralinga, in the remote west of South Australia, and Emu Field, also in the South Australian desert, for the testing.
Often equipped with just a hat, shorts and boots, they were told to simply turn their back when the bombs were detonated. Many were covered in fallout from the mushroom clouds and were later treated for radiation sickness.