Thousands of soldiers were placed at risk from the effects of depleted
uranium, the substance linked to Gulf war syndrome, after a safety notice
failed to reach troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 conflict.
A breakdown in communications meant that the notice from the Ministry
Defence in London never found its way to soldiers attached to tanks armed
with ammunition containing the fatal substance, the government said last
In a written parliamentary reply, the defence minister, John Spellar,
officials had uncovered a message which was sent from the MoD to 1 Armoured
Division in Saudi Arabia on 25 February 1991 about the dangers posed by the
substance. A second message, advising on how to avoid breathing in depleted
uranium dust, never reached its destination.
Mr Spellar's admission is an embarrassment to the MoD, which is fighting
claims by Gulf war veterans that they were poisoned by depleted uranium
during the war.
Veterans reacted angrily last night to the MoD statement. Shaun Rusling,
the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said he did not
believe safety messages were ever sent to the Gulf.
"I think the MoD statement is untrue and is designed to cover up their
failure to issue any warnings," he said. "This is very disturbing. I would
like to see their documentation as we can prove the MoD was fully aware
of the dangers and yet did nothing to advise troops."
The MoD statement came as new figures showed nearly 300 Gulf war veterans
have died in the last three years. In a parliamentary reply, Mr Spellar
said 278 Gulf war veterans have died since 1995. None of the dead has been
officially confirmed as a victim of Gulf war syndrome. Fifty committed
Stephen Childs, 47, who died of liver and pancreas cancer on Saturday,
the most recent Gulf war soldier to die. His doctor believes exposure to
depleted uranium while he recovered damaged vehicles caused his illness.
The MoD said last night that it regretted that its safety
to reach troops. But a spokesman insisted that there was no proof that
soldiers fell ill as a result of depleted uranium, which is used to
strengthen the tips of shells.
The spokesman said that the substance only posed a risk to Iraqi troops
when it vapourised after piercing armour. "We do not believe it is a
problem for British veterans, but we have offered them tests. This has not
The veterans' campaign received a boost earlier this year after tests
carried out on the body of Terry Riordon, a Canadian military policeman who
died after suffering Gulf war syndrome. They found substances linked to
depleted uranium in his bone tissue.
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