Gulf war syndrome: the legal case collapses
Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
Thursday February 5, 2004
An eight-year, multimillion pound legal battle by more than 2,000 veterans for
compensation for Gulf war syndrome has collapsed because there is not enough
scientific evidence to prove their case in court.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC), which is estimated to have spent
on the case, is expected to withdraw legal aid this month after being told by
the veterans' lawyers that the action has no real chance of success. Taking
case to trial in the high court could cost a further £4m in legal aid.
The legal team - headed by Stephen Irwin QC, the chairman of the bar, and
Patrick Allen, senior partner of solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen - last night
called on the government to set up a public review of the issues surrounding
Gulf war illness and to make ex gratia payments to veterans.
To succeed in their claim against the Ministry of Defence, the veterans would
have to produce scientific evidence not only that their illness was caused by
their service in the 1991 Gulf war, but also that the MoD had been negligent.
The burden of proof would be on them as claimants to prove their case.
But a trawl by scientists through 10 years of research worldwide, overseen by
the veterans' lawyers and funded by the LSC, has found no evidence which
establishes any specific cause for the range of health problems they suffer.
There is also little or no evidence of negligence on the part of the MoD,
according to the legal opinion by Mr Irwin and the junior counsel Christopher
Hough, which has gone to the LSC.
The collapse of the case comes only months after litigation by parents who
the MMR vaccine for their children's autism suffered a similar fate, also for
lack of scientific evidence to back up their claims.
Many of the 55,000 British troops who served in the Gulf have experienced a
range of symptoms including muscle weakness, neurological symptoms, headaches,
depression, fatigue, short-term memory loss and difficulty in concentrating,
joint and muscle pain, sleep disturbances, skin rashes, and shortness of
Gulf war veterans, including British, American, Australian and Danish troops,
have about twice the expected rate of ill health.
But while experts worldwide accept that a Gulf war "health effect" exists, no
hard evidence has emerged proving the veterans' problems were caused by
encountered during the conflict. Among the causes suggested are depleted
fallout from munitions; multiple vaccinations administered before the
tablets given to guard against nerve agents; chemical weapons used by Iraqi
forces or destroyed by the allies after the war; organophosphates used to
tents and equipment against flies; and pollution from oil well fires.
More than 2,000 Gulf veterans have been awarded "no fault" war pensions,
to those whose health has been affected by war service. This week the first
pension for the effects of depleted uranium was awarded to a former soldier,
Kenny Duncan, who claimed he was poisoned from inhaling DU dust from burnt-out
But winning a war pension is no pointer to success in a high court
claim. The burden of proof is reversed in pension cases, putting the onus
MoD to prove the illness is not linked to Gulf service, and there is no
"We very much regret that we have not been able to support these claims," Mr
Allen said. "We have every sympathy for the plight of veterans and acknowledge
that many suffer significant ill health which is linked to their service for
"We hope that a cause will be found for Gulf war illnesses in due course and
that effective treatment programmes can be instigated to help improve the
A spokesman for the LSC said: "We anticipate reaching a conclusion on the
public funding of this case in the next two to three weeks."