Nuclear test veteran dies before law case

The late Derek Payne, of Bessacarr, who was a bomb test veteran at Christmas Island.
The late Derek Payne, of Bessacarr, who was a bomb test veteran at Christmas Island.
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An RAF veteran who took part in nuclear tests in the 1950s died from cancer weeks before judges were due to rule whether he could claim compensation for exposure to radiation.

Derek Payne from Cantley died from prostate cancer aged 74.

His family and campaigners believe his death was connected to atomic tests carried out while he was based on Christmas Island in 1956.

His widow Margaret said: “He said that they went out to Christmas Island and they didn’t have any special equipment.

“They were told to sit with their back to the explosion and put their hands over their eyes, and when the bomb went off with all the flash they could see all the bones in their fingers.”

Mrs Payne, of Highbury Crescent, added: “He said one of the sergeants walked past and the Geiger counter started going off. He had to be stripped and showered. I think he had to have several showers before he was clear.”

Mr Payne was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, but had been forced to have troublesome moles removed several times of the years.

The couple, who were based at RAF Finningley in the 1970s, lost a baby in 1963. Their daughter Carol also suffered miscarriages and one of their grandsons was born with one kidney.

Mrs Payne believes both her husband’s problems and her family’s health difficulties are the result of Mr Payne’s time on Christmas Island.

Mr Payne was a member of the Atomic Veterans Claimants Group - made up of campaigners fighting for compensation because of the after effects of the nuclear blasts.

On July 28 the group is appealing a court ruling made last year which said too much time has elapsed for claimants to be eligible for compensation. His eldest son, Andrew, is also continuing talks with a solicitor in their fight for compensation.

But Mrs Payne has admitted she has doubts the legal battle will be successful, even though she said other countries had paid out.

Mr Payne, father-of-four and grandfather of seven, became a devoted fundraiser following the death of his daughter-in-law Judy Philips, aged 21, in 1985. He was also chairman of the Doncaster branch of the Leukaemia Research charity.

An Atomic Veterans spokesman said: “The Ministry of Defence are trying to hide behind technical arguments so that the real truth is not exposed.”

An MoD spokesman said: “We recognise the invaluable contribution of all service personnel who took part in the nuclear testing programme.

“We are grateful to them for the part they played in ensuring UK security.”

He added that judges had previously ruled there was no evidence to link claimants’ illnesses with nuclear tests.