THE Ministry of Defence may face compensation claims running into millions of pounds after an independent inquiry yesterday ruled conclusively that Gulf war syndrome does exist.
The inquiry, headed by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a former law lord, said there were probably a number of causes but added it was clear the cocktail of health problems suffered by up to 6,000 veterans could fairly be described collectively as Gulf war syndrome. It urged the MoD to establish a special fund to make one-off compensation payments to those affected.
Tony Flint, of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said the report’s conclusions justified what the veterans had been saying about Gulf war syndrome for years.
He said it was now time for the MoD to take heed of Lord Lloyd’s proposals and compensate the veterans for the illnesses they have suffered.
Mr Flint added: "We’ve said all along it exists, now we have an eminent body saying it as well. We call on the MoD to accept the conclusions of the committee and take on board its recommendations."
One veteran, Noel Baker, added: "This report vindicates the veterans and it shows we are not malingerers - there is a real problem."
However, the initial response to the inquiry from the MoD was not positive with Ivor Caplin, the veterans’ minister, criticising the report’s lack of transparency after it was funded by anonymous donors.
Despite paying pensions to thousands of veterans, the MoD has never accepted their illnesses are linked to service in the Gulf in the early Nineties.
The inquiry report said studies carried out by the MoD had shown veterans who served in the Gulf were twice as likely to suffer from ill-health as those who had not. "We can see no good reason why they [the MoD] should not accept Gulf war syndrome," the report said. "It does not imply a single disease with a single cause. It will not expose them to any new claims. It will make no practical difference. But it will make a great difference to the veterans and their families, if only for symbolic reasons."
Lord Lloyd said: "Gulf war syndrome means something, it has a certain resonance. As they [the veterans] are the ones who are ill it seems reasonable that they should name their disease."
The report said more scientific research was needed into the causes of the various conditions suffered by the veterans. However, it accepted the illnesses suffered by the veterans were likely to be due to a combination of causes.
These included multiple injections of vaccines, the use of organophosphate pesticides to spray tents, low level exposure to nerve gas, and the inhalation of depleted uranium dust.
Lord Lloyd said: "All these causes are directly related to the veterans’ service in the Gulf, in what was a very toxic environment. No other possible causes have been proposed."
The inquiry was set up at the request of the Labour peer Lord Morris of Manchester, parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion, after the MoD refused an official inquiry.
The MoD prevented serving military personnel and officials from appearing before the inquiry although it did submit written evidence. The inquiry was still able to take evidence from former personnel.
Lord Lloyd was scathing about the MoD’s failure to co-operate fully with his investigation. He said: "The MoD thus lost a valuable opportunity to start the process of reconciliation with the ill veterans, an opportunity which would have cost them nothing."
And he added: "What the veterans now want above all else is a clear recognition by the MoD that they are ill because they served in the Gulf. Are they entitled to that recognition? In our view they are."
Lord Morris said the inquiry showed that it was possible to challenge the government if it would not accept the case for an official investigation into a particular issue of concern.
The Ministry of Defence said it needed more time to consider Lord Lloyd’s report and would issue a response once it had had a chance to assess its findings.
• MURRAY Lomax, now 38, joined the army in November 1989. He was a lance bombardier in 40 Regiment Royal Artillery (The Lowland Gunners) during the Gulf war, serving as an air defence missile operator and driver.
Prior to the Gulf, he was given the first of many vaccinations, the records of which are now "unobtainable" or "lost in transit".
When, in October 1990, he was sent to the Gulf, he received two anthrax vaccinations and the plague vaccine. He was then issued with NAPS (nerve agent protection set), taken in pill form three times daily for virtually the duration of the war. He also received BATS (biological agent treatment set), but cannot recall the quantity and dosage he took. There was also a daily dose of quinine (anti-malaria tablets) and vaccinations against cholera and typhoid.
When the war began, he was exposed to a nightmare combination of toxins, gases, pesticides, nuclear radiation from depleted uranium and organophosphates, which were in general use at the time as "sheep dip". Troops were issued with "dose meters", black-faced wristwatch devices which monitored radiation levels, but could only be read accurately by authorised personnel.
Recalling the beginning of the conflict - when his unit was deployed to provide anti-aircraft defence for 7th Brigade (Desert Rats) HQ, he said: "It was chaos, confusing. We were continually on the move. You ate, slept, picked your nose, and lived danger in your wagon among the kit, ammunition, phosphorous grenades and missiles."
After two weeks in Kuwait, he was sent to the frontline, 50 miles inside Iraq, to fight Iraq’s Republican Guard.
On 19 March, 1991, three weeks after the end of hostilities, Mr Lomax returned to base in Germany. Already, his physical and mental health was beginning to deteriorate. He trembled constantly, he could not remember things, he was depressed and found sleep impossible. He suffered severe stomach pains and diarrhoea, and was diagnosed with blood disorders. Increasingly, he fell back on alcohol for comfort.
He wanted moral support and medical assistance, but said he was treated instead as a malingerer. He was stripped of the rank of lance bombardier and demoted to gunner. He was discharged in June 1996. "They gave me 100 and a one-way ticket to Edinburgh."
Now 38, Mr Lomax lives in Longniddry, East Lothian, with his collie dog, Max. He awaits recognition of his symptoms and is fighting for an enhanced pension. He recently discovered he has metal fragments in his skull and is troubled they may be fragments of depleted uranium. He cannot remember a time when he was healthy.
He welcomes Lord Lloyd’s report, but wonders if the MoD will take any notice.