inquiry into Gulf war illnesses
unprecedented independent inquiry into whether more than 5,000 veterans
of the first Gulf war became ill as a result of their service will be
Lloyd of Berwick, the former law lord, will conduct hearings in central
London in the next few months and pose a political dilemma for the
government which has refused to authorise a public inquiry for the past
expected to invite current and former ministers, civil servants, health
and scientific experts, as well as veterans and their families to
establish the medical consequences of their service.
understood that Lord Lloyd, a law lord until 1999 and a former attorney
general to the Prince of Wales, is determined to begin with no
preconceptions about the veterans' claims that they were made ill, but
believes an inquiry will help settle the long-standing sores between
former service personnel and the Ministry of Defence.
was delighted to be invited to conduct an independent public inquiry
into Gulf war illnesses. My intention is to open the inquiry as soon as
possible and to hold hearings in public," he said yesterday.
arrangements for an inquiry have been prepared in confidence, leaving
the government little time to decide how to react. Although Lord Lloyd
will not have formal legal powers, ministers will have to consider how
to respond to invitations to give evidence. Refusal to cooperate could
be damaging politically.
pressure for an inquiry, first made by the Royal British Legion in 1998,
has intensified since February when an eight-year legal battle by more
than 2,000 veterans collapsed because there was insufficient scientific
evidence to pursue their case. The Legal Services Commission which paid
an estimated £4m in legal aid, withdrew further funding after reviews
of research could find no specific cause for the veterans' health
their lawyers said there was no doubt many of them were ill and that
their suffering was genuine. They called for an independent inquiry and
urged the government to instigate a "process of conciliation"
with veterans' groups.
thought the inquiry will be funded by anonymous independent donations by
people not directly involved in the controversy.
Morris of Manchester, who has been involved behind the scenes, said last
night: "I hope this will clear an impasse that has been of deep
concern to the ex-service community. There is no one more suited or
well-qualified to lead an inquiry."
eminent figures are expected to help in the inquiry. They include Sir
Michael Davies, former clerk to the parliaments, who chaired the
management board of the House of Lords. Former presidents of the General
Medical Council are also thought to be involved as medical advisers.
former troops who served in the Gulf during the 1991 conflict have
reported symptoms such as muscle weakness, neurological symptoms,
headaches, depression, skin rashes and shortage of breath.
suggested causes have ranged from the pre-conflict injections which Lord
Morris has referred to as "a veritable blitzkreig on the immune
system" to pollution from burning oil wells, stress, depleted
uranium, organophosphates and the effect of low-level exposure to
chemical agents destroyed during and after the war.
congressional investigation has suggested that far more troops and
civilians were exposed to chemical agents than was previously estimated
by the Pentagon and the CIA.
government has not ruled out an inquiry, but it does not regard one as
useful. It has instead stressed the value of its £8.5m research
programme, much of which has compared the health of veterans with those
who did not serve in the Gulf.
has failed to find any single Gulf war syndrome, although veterans are
twice as likely as non-veterans to report symptoms when asked about
them. Death rates are similar between the groups.
Morris accepted the value of research, but said: "We are now 13
years on. None of us wants to see the afflicted and bereaved of the
conflict made to suffer added strain and hurtful and demeaning
indignities that preventable delay in dealing with their concerns might
About 2,000 Gulf veterans have been awarded "no-fault" war pensions: the onus in these was on the MoD to prove that the illness was not linked to service in the Gulf war, and there was no need for the claimants to prove negligence. There has been pressure from MPs and peers for the government to introduce ex-gratia payments for veterans to avoid further proceedings.