Calls For New UK Gulf War Illness Inquiry
The Guardian (UK)
Posted 5/5/2003 5:29:59 PM
May 5, 2003
"Ruling prompts calls for Gulf war syndrome inquiry"
London - Calls for a public inquiry into Gulf war syndrome were gathering pace tonight after a landmark ruling found a link between one of the main symptoms of the illness and injections given to soldiers.
Alex Izett, a former lance corporal with the Royal Engineers, finally won his 10-year battle for recognition when a war pensions appeals tribunal agreed that the injections he received caused him to develop osteoporosis. A similar ruling involving another serviceman, Shaun Rusling, the chairman of the Gulf War Veterans Association, was challenged by the Ministry of Defence and he is currently awaiting a court of appeal judgment on his case. But the MoD has decided not to appeal against Mr Izett's victory. Mr Izett, 33, who has suffered from the brittle bone disease for the last eight years, described the decision as a "watershed" moment for all veterans of the first Gulf conflict who claim they were made ill by the injections. The father-of-two never went to the Gulf, although he received the same injections - some designed to counter a biological warfare attack - linked by critics to illness among some veterans, described as Gulf war syndrome. It is his absence from the theatre of war, the inoculations he received and his subsequent slide into ill-health that experts claim provides crucial evidence linking the latter two.
Tonight, campaigners claimed that the MoD's decision not to appeal against the ruling could have significant implications for hundreds of veterans. But the MoD said the case had no implications for other pending cases. And defence minister Lewis Moonie insisted that there was still no proof that vaccinations were to blame for veterans' ill-health. Mr Izett, from Cumbernauld, north Lanarkshire, said: "I hope this judgment will have a knock-on effect and that the MoD will now finally tell the truth. I'm not only pleased for myself, I'm delighted for the Gulf war veterans' community as a whole. "The last 10 years have been hell for me and my family. They [the MoD] have taken my dignity, my livelihood. But they are not going to take my life as well. "I just hope that this opens the floodgates for more cases to come forward."
Mr Izett, who now lives in Bersenbruck, Germany, said the MoD, which denies evidence of Gulf war syndrome, now had no alternative but to grant a public inquiry. "We have to have this sorted out once and for all," he continued. "The MoD has to admit what it got wrong." Mr Izett said that the decision to inoculate soldiers in the first Gulf war was a "mistake", but he described the use of similar injections in the build up to the recent war in Iraq as a crime. "They still haven't learned," he said. "We already know of three cases where soldiers fighting in this war have come down ill because of the inoculations and it's disgusting for it to be happening again." The judgment, which was given in December, ruled that he should receive a pension in recognition of the physical harm he suffered as a result of his service. It stated: "The tribunal finds that the appellant was vaccinated with a concoction of drugs prior to planned deployment in the Gulf war. The concoction of drugs caused osteoporosis." The decision came to light today because the government's war pensions agency has only just handed over the paperwork to Mr Izett.
Campaigners saluted his victory as a major step forward in getting the condition officially recognised and are now calling on all Gulf war veterans to come forward to make their case. v Charles Plumridge, senior co-ordinator for the National Gulf War Veterans Association, said: "The veterans finally have justice. There must now be a public inquiry. "The last time we asked for one, the prime minister told us that it would not be appropriate because there wasn't sufficient evidence. We now have that evidence." Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler, a member of the Royal British Legion Gulf War Group, said he would be demanding a statement from the MoD this week. He said: "I will be asking the secretary of state to cut the legal waffle and recognise that our troops, who put their lives on the line, deserve better. Full recognition of the link between the injections and their illnesses, and then appropriate compensation, is the least they should expect." Mr Tyler, MP for North Cornwall, added: "The Ministry of Defence has been in a state of deplorable denial. While US service personnel were properly treated, ours were accused of imagining their serious illnesses." But tonight the MoD refused to accept the tribunal's findings, or the existence of Gulf war syndrome and said that the Izett case had no implications for other pending cases.
Mr Moonie insisted that there was still no proof that vaccinations were to blame for veterans' ill-health and said that the tribunal was "not competent" to make judgments on the medical reason for their problems. He said the MoD was not challenging the decision because there were no legal grounds to base a challenge on. But he added: "The tribunal's purpose is to determine whether a war pension should be awarded or not, and it is awarded on the basis of whether we can show beyond all reasonable doubt that a condition was not due to a person's service. "The reason they found was that we were unable to show that the injections did not cause this problem." He said there was still no medical evidence of a syndrome linked to service in the Gulf War. "No reputable medical authority whatsoever accepts the existence of a syndrome called Gulf war syndrome." He said that additional experiments were being conducted at Porton Down to provide an explanation.
Elizabeth Sigmund, from the Gulf Syndrome Study Group, described the MoD response as "utterly inadequate". "Scientifically speaking, the MoD's response is a disgrace," she said. There were 12 other cases, she added, where soldiers who did not go to the Gulf in 1991 were known to have developed the syndrome after receiving the inoculations. Labour peer Lord Morris of Manchester, a campaigner for the veterans, said the Izett case vindicated his belief that the inoculations caused Gulf war syndrome. Lord Morris, who was Britain's first minister for the disabled, said that as a next step the government should now recognise motor neurone disease among these veterans as war-related.