VETERANS fighting to be allowed to sue the government after being exposed to nuclear radiation in the 1950s and 1960s are awaiting a key ruling from the Supreme Court.

The former servicemen, including around 10 from Dorset, claim they contracted cancer and other rare illnesses after being present during nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Ocean and Maralinga in South Australia.

They are set to find out in March whether their appeal can proceed, which could lead to their cases going to full trial by the end of the year.

The UK carried out nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Ocean and Maralinga, involving more than 20,000 servicemen between 1952 and 1967. Of 2,500 men surveyed in 1999, at least 30 per cent had died and their grandchildren had higher than usual abnormalities.

Veteran Brian Fitzgerald, 74, from Merrow Avenue in Branksome, was 21 when he was sent to Christmas Island and later developed serious circulatory problems.

The grandfather-of-four said: “We weren’t told the consequences of it at the time.”

Donald Bickerton, 77, from Greenacre Close in Upton, was 25 when he witnessed three atomic bombs and one hydrogen bomb being detonated at Christmas Island and later developed face cancer.

As a veteran he wants “recognition” rather than money, he added.

Robert Smith’s father John died from cancer aged 54 after serving on board the HMS Narvik, which transported atomic weapons to the Montebello islands.

Mr Smith said people should know what had happened and how the Government was handling it.

He added: “A lot of people like myself were denied our parents.”

Neil Sampson, from Rosenblatt solicitors, representing veterans, said: “Claimants are dying at a rate of three each month, so the sooner the government stops wasting time and money on procedural issues and allows a judge to finally decide the matter, the happier the claimants will be.”

Andrew Robathan, Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, said: “The MOD welcomes the Court of Appeal judgement that granted the MOD’s limitation appeal in all these cases.

“While I have tremendous sympathy with anyone who is ill, the court accepted arguments that the general merits of the claims were extremely weak and said that the claimants had produced no evidence to link illnesses with attendance at the nuclear tests.”

Former forces personnel who suffer from illness or service injury are already compensated in the form of a war pension he added.