I’ll fight on to the death

Michael Dilworth, nuclear test veteran
Michael Dilworth, nuclear test veteran

A BUXTON man who unknowingly sacrificed his health in the struggle for world peace claims he has been left to fight a war to the death for compensation from the government.

Michael Dilworth, 73, was one of hundreds of servicemen exposed to radiation during atomic weapons testing on Christmas Island in the late 1950s – at a time when nuclear weapons were seen as vital in maintaining the balance of power between the West and the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

But despite the Supreme Court last week ruling that nine test cases could not proceed to trial because they were out of time, Mr Dilworth remains determined in his long battle for compensation from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). His case, along with those of more than a thousand veterans, will now go back to the High Court.

He said: “At one point I did say all I wanted was for them to say sorry, but not any more. It is a fight to the death.”

But the veterans’ solicitors Rosenblatt’s said: “The Ministry of Defence will no doubt try to block the cases proceeding to trial as they have done for many years.”

Michael, of Nunsfield Road, was just a teenager when he left Portsmouth for the Pacific Ocean in February 1957 aboard the HMS Warrior.

After passing through the Panama Canal, the crew were told that they were heading to Christmas Island to carry out hydrogen bomb tests.

It was a mission which not only impacted on world peace, it changed his life forever. Left completely unprotected from the blast, the young servicemen were advised simply to turn their backs to the detonation and shield their eyes with their hands. Later, they were sent to collect samples so the armed forces could see what effect the hydrogen bombs had, leading to even more exposure to the radiation.

Yet the MoD have refused to compensate them and a legal battle has been ongoing for several years.

Speaking of the Supreme Court case, Michael said: “I can’t understand how they came to that decision. The evidence that was produced was so damning. It’s not justice.

“They (the MoD) know the damages will cost millions. They are just hoping as many as possible of us will die first.

“The way the government in this country treat ex-servicemen is disgusting. I dread to think of all those lads losing limbs in Afghanistan because in ten years time they won’t want to know.”

A healthy 18-year-old when he left for Christmas Island, what happened during those fateful tests has left Michael with an unwanted legacy, a catalogue of health problems. He has “been in and out of hospital like a yo-yo” suffering from a number of complaints including problems with his knees and stomach.

But Michael, unlike many of his colleagues, has been relatively lucky. Many of the veterans have suffered horrific deaths from radiation-related illnesses, lawyers claim, while others have suffered cancer and skin deformities.

Many of those involved in the test cases have already died, the latest just a few days before the Supreme Court’s ruling. But for those who remain, the fight goes on.

“Our barristers have said they will fight tooth and nail. They’re not giving up,” he added.

“It is a fight to the death now.”