A-bomb test DID play part in grandad's cancer death
THE family of a veteran exposed to nuclear test blasts are to step up their fight for compensation after a coroner ruled he was killed by his military service.
An inquest into the death of Derek Heaps, who worked as an engineer in the RAF, heard that he had witnessed an atomic explosion while working on Christmas Island.
He also went to Malden Island, also in the South Pacific, shortly after another atomic test took place there.
Mr Heaps, of Castle Donington, had always insisted his exposure to the blasts was the cause of ill health he suffered later in life.
He was one of a group of servicemen fighting a Ministry of Defence decision not to pay out compensation to A-bomb veterans.
Other countries have paid out to their veterans, with Australian ex-servicemen even being paid off by Britain.
Mr Heaps became a grandfather on the day he died, April 7, at Royal Derby Hospital, from bronchopneumonia due to malignant melanoma and myelofibrosis, a type of leukaemia. He was 78.
Assistant Deputy Coroner for Derbyshire Paul McCandless has now ruled "ionising radiation" from the blasts contributed to his death, as well as heavy exposure to sunlight.
Mr Heaps' son, Nigel Heaps, said: "The verdict provides an indication that the beliefs my father had for a large part of his life were justified."
During his lifetime, Mr Heaps was a vociferous advocate for the rights of nuclear test veterans and became involved with the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association to fight for compensation.
He said he had initially read about the association in the Derby Telegraph.
Nigel Heaps, who is now chairman of the association, said: "My dad never did things by halves. He became interested in the whole subject of how many nuclear test veterans had health problems like leukaemia."
In 2006 Mr Heaps was one of 1,000 veterans who attempted to sue the MoD with new research which they claimed proved they and their colleagues suffered from serious illnesses or death after being exposed to radiation.
Nine of these veterans took their case to the Supreme Court this year but lost their bid for damages as the court ruled their case had been brought forward too late.
The Ministry of Defence argued that too much time has passed since the tests for the case to be allowed to go to court.
In a written statement to the inquest, Mr Heaps' wife, Valerie, said: "Derek's posting to Christmas Island in the South Pacific came through in early November 1956.
"We married on November 24, 1956, on his embarkation leave and he went out to Christmas Island in January 1957."
It was while stationed on Christmas Island, 3,000 miles from Australia, that he flew to collect some boxes from nearby Malden Island, the day after an atomic bomb had been exploded there.
She said he wore shorts and boots while the other men on the island were dressed in white, covered completely and wearing masks.
Mrs Heaps said in her statement to the inquest at Derby and South Derbyshire Coroner's Court: "The boxes were covered in a white powder. Derek lifted these boxes up to the aircraft and after taking off was asked by the pilot to sit on them to stop them moving around the aircraft."
She said Mr Heaps saw a second blast at Malden Island, this time when he was in another plane.
"He said the blast rocked the plane as it exploded.
"The men who sat either side of him died of cancer."
Mrs Heaps said her husband, who had to retire early due to ill health, was later diagnosed with myelofibrosis. He was given blood transfusions, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy in a bid to control the condition.
He was also treated for skin cancer on his hands.
After an operation last Christmas, Mr Heaps was told his cancer had spread and he had "reached the end of the road".
In a narrative verdict, Paul McCandless said Mr Heaps died of a severe chest infection to which he was predisposed because of his malignant melanoma and myelofibrosis.
Mr McCandless said: "He was in receipt, at the end of his life, of a war pension due to it being accepted that his malignant melanoma may have been due to exposure to sunlight whilst working on aircraft at the time of his National Service in the Royal Air Force and, specifically, whilst on Christmas Island.
"Derek Frank Heaps' underlying fatal conditions were of a type which can be caused by exposure to high levels of ionising radiation."
A spokesman for the MoD said it recognised the debt of gratitude it had to the servicemen who took part in the nuclear tests.
He said: "They were important tests that helped to keep this nation secure at a difficult time in terms of nuclear technology. The Supreme Court ruled in March 2012 in favour of the MoD that the claims brought by nuclear test veterans were time-barred and declined to allow the claims to proceed under the statutory discretion.
"When compensation claims are submitted, they are considered on the basis of whether or not the MoD has a legal liability to pay compensation. Where there is a legal liability to pay compensation, we do so."