A WIDOW has hit out at the Ministry of Defence after it started a legal battle to block compensation payments to nuclear testing veterans.

Sheila Gray lost her husband Frank to cancer in 1992, forty years after he witnessed nuclear bomb testing in the Monte Bello islands off the West Australian coast.

The 72-year-old, from Billingham, has campaigned for years to get the government to accept responsibility for the illnesses that have ravaged the servicemen and their families.

“My husband was never interested in winning compensation,” she said. “All he ever wanted was somebody to accept responsibility for what happened and say sorry.

“Frank was invalided out of the Marines two months after he took part in the testing because his hair and teeth started falling out - to me that is pretty clear evidence.

“The government’s continual attempts to block the campaign really annoys me, they are always coming up with more and more excuses.”

Mrs Gray, who is now herself suffering ill health, helped found the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, which is fighting the High Court case.

Around 1,000 veterans from all three armed services are claiming hundreds of millions of pounds in damages for injuries ranging from skin conditions to cancer and death.

The MOD says the Limitation Act 1980 provides a "time bar" which prevents the veterans from launching their claims outside of a set period after they became aware that they had a valid claim.

Benjamin Browne QC, speaking for the servicemen who took part in the programme in the South Pacific, said that the Government had satisfied itself as to the validity of the Rowland study of a small group of New Zealand test veterans, which proved that most if not all of them suffered genetic effects due to radiation exposure.

And an American expert at the worlds oldest and largest radiological research laboratory, who was the principal investigator for the US government in this field, had said studies both on the Japanese bomb survivors and others showed that exposure to radiation at the levels demonstrated by Rowlands study substantially increased the incidence of cancer and cancer mortality.

Other North-East people involved in the legal claim are Denis Shaw, from Grosmont, near Whitby, and Tommy Wilson, from Benwell, Newcastle.

The hearing to assess whether the claims are barred by the Limitation Act continues and is due to last three weeks.