Court finds for Gulf illness veteran

An ex-soldier today won a landmark legal battle against the Ministry of Defence after the high court ruled he was suffering from an illness linked to his service in the first Gulf war.

The judgment, announced by Mr Justice Newman at the high court in London, centred on former parachute regiment medical officer Shaun Rusling's right to a war pension.

The MoD was appealing against an earlier ruling that Mr Rusling was a victim of an identifiable syndrome attributable to his service in the 1991 Gulf conflict.

That decision, by a war pensions appeal tribunal in Leeds last May, allowed Mr Rusling a 90% disablement pension and was hailed by thousands of Gulf war veterans as a significant development in their fight for compensation.

Until Mr Rusling won his case, the MoD's veterans agency had refused pensions to veterans claiming to suffer from Gulf war syndrome (GWS) - which the government does not recognise as a medical syndrome.

An "elated" Mr Rusling, talking to reporters on the steps of the high court after the judgment, said: "It's been a roller-coaster. Every time I won the case the MoD has appealed.

"The treatment we've had is outrageous. I treated Iraqi casualties with more care than the MoD has treated me and my fellow sufferers."

Today's ruling - which upheld that of Mr Rusling's tribunal - made clear that the hearing was not concerned with whether GWS exists.

The judge said: "This court is not in a position to express any view on the merits of the dispute as to whether, according to current medical research, Gulf war syndrome is or is not a 'single disease entity'.

"It has not done so by this judgment. But a claimant who bases his claim for entitlement on the condition will carry the onus proving its existence on the balance of probabilities.

"That onus should not be undertaken lightly and without evidence to support it. It can be anticipated that a claim so made will be rejected by the secretary of state and, after notice of appeal, reviewed according to the symptoms which the claimant has manifested or disclosed.

"Those advising a claimant should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of becoming involved in an appeal. This consideration should be given by reference to the quality of the evidence which can be adduced and the interests of a claimant in seeking to establish the existence of Gulf war syndrome."

Experts believe the result is unlikely to lead to mass actions on behalf of sufferers - but it could still open the way for individual cases by veterans who claim their lives have been ruined by GWS.

Mark McGee, Mr Rusling's solicitor, said after today's hearing: "What the judge has done is upheld Shaun's and every other Gulf veteran's rights to bring claims for Gulf war syndrome. The tribunal will be able to decide on the merits of individual cases ... It will take a great deal of time for the cases to be heard."

Mr McGee added that, in light of today's ruling, he planned to appeal to the veterans agency to increase Mr Rusling's pension to 100% of the entitlement for disabled veterans.

"As far as Shaun is concerned he has been left very severely disabled ... It has taken 10 years to win recognition for his condition," he told Sky news.