Ex-soldier died of cancer caused by Gulf War uranium
Telegraph.co.uk 10 Sep 2009
The death of an ex-soldier, Stuart Dyson, from cancer was caused by his exposure to depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf War, an inquest jury ruled.
In a narrative verdict, the panel found it was more likely than not that Mr Dyson's death in June last year was ''caused or contributed to'' by the radioactive material, which is used in military munitions.
The jury heard that Mr Dyson, a Lance Corporal with the Royal Pioneer Corps, cleaned tanks after the first Gulf War during a five-month deployment to the war zone.
His widow Elaine told the day-long hearing that her husband's health had deteriorated after he left the army in 1992 and that he was diagnosed with colon cancer, which spread to his liver and spleen, in 2007.
The 41-year-old mother-of-two said her 39 year-old husband, from Brownhills, West Midlands , had been ''convinced'' before his death that his cancer was linked to his service in the Gulf.
After the verdict was returned at Smethwick Council House, Black Country Coroner Robin Balmain said he intended to send a report on the death to the Secretary of State for Defence.
Mr Balmain, who expressed disappointment that the Ministry of Defence had not sent an expert witness to the inquest, told the court: ''This case has brought into sharp focus the problems that arise and the difficulties of dealing with the conflict between the need of the military to have the best munitions for their tasks, and the health of soldiers who go to war ... and indeed the health of the public who are caught up in wars.''
Mr Balmain, who is to write to the defence secretary under Rule 43 of the Coroners' Rules, described the scientific evidence presented to the jury as persuasive.
''What action is taken is no doubt a difficult political decision, but what I am certain of is that action needs to be taken,'' the coroner added.
Giving evidence at the inquest, Professor Christopher Busby, an expert on the effects of uranium on health, said Mr Dyson's cancer was ''more likely than not'' caused by ingestion and inhalation of the substance during his service in the Gulf.
The witness, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster , added: ''The interesting thing about My Dyson's cancer is that he was extremely young - the chances of him acquiring the cancer were something like six per million per year.''
Professor Busby said he had visited Iraq in 2000 and had personally found particles of depleted uranium with dangerously high radiation levels near the wrecks of tanks destroyed during the 1991 war.
The expert told the jury: ''We also know in this case that he was cleaning tanks and generally walking about in Gulf War One, where there was a significant amount of depleted uranium in the air. Mr Dyson was exposed by inhalation and ingestion.
''My feeling about Mr Dyson's colon cancer is that it was produced because he ingested some radioactive material and it became trapped in his intestine. To my mind there seems to be a causal arrow from his exposure to his final illness. It's certainly much more probable than not that Mr Dyson's cancer was caused by exposure to depleted uranium.''
Mrs Dyson explained to the jury how her husband - who served in the Gulf between January and May 1991 - had suffered from a variety of medical conditions after leaving the military.
Her husband had once been very fit, Mrs Dyson said, even boxing and playing rugby for the army, but had suffered sleep problems, night sweats, creaking bones and cold sores as his health deteriorated over the years.
"He was convinced that his time in the Gulf was where the cancer had come from," she told the court.
Mrs Dyson said there was no history of colon cancer in her husband's family and that his immune system had appeared to "run down" once he returned from the Gulf.
Summing up the evidence to the jury panel, Mr Balmain said he had received a submission from a scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), who had concluded that Mr Dyson's cancer arose naturally and there was no evidence to associate it with his exposure to depleted uranium.
The verdict has been called a "landmark ruling" by Gulf War Syndrome sufferers who believe that 10,000 out of the 38,000 ground troops in the invasion show symptons related to the syndrome.
Shaun Rusling, of the Gulf Veterans and Family Association and a former paratrooper, said: "I would advise all veterans of the First Gulf War to have regular tests for cancer. Sadly the MoD does not seem to care or recognise this problem yet former servicemen still suffer and die from it."
While experts accept that a Gulf War effect exists, it has been attributed to causes as varied as depleted uranium fall-out from munitions; multiple vaccinations; Iraqi chemical weapons; organophosphates used to spray tents and equipment against flies; and pollution from oil well fires.
The MoD, which was informed in March that Mr Busby had been called to give expert evidence, was not represented at the hearing.
"It is in my view somewhat disappointing that the Ministry of Defence chose not to come here and assist you with any expert evidence which might have put forward the contrary view," the coroner told the jury.
Speaking after the hearing, a spokesman for the MoD said: "We were sorry to learn of Mr Dyson's death last year and our thoughts remain with his family and friends.
"We have co-operated fully with the coroner and have provided him with a written report from our technical expert on depleted uranium on the health issues relevant to Mr Dyson's case.
"In a letter to the coroner we explained that on this occasion we would not provide an expert witness unless the coroner thought it necessary."
The MoD spokesman added: "There is no reliable scientific or medical evidence to suggest that depleted uranium has been responsible for post-conflict incidences of ill-health in UK Forces' personnel or civilian populations.
"Of the thousands of troops monitored worldwide, very few have had any detectable depleted uranium exposure. We are happy to study any further evidence presented at the inquest when this is made available."