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Cherie Blair to act for Aborigines in nuclear case

Last Updated: Saturday, January 23, 2010 - 14:55

Sydney: The barrister wife of former prime minister Tony Blair will represent a group of Australian Aborigines suing the British government over nuclear testing on their land, a report said on Saturday.
Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement spokesman Neil Gillespie said Cherie Blair had been engaged by a group from Emu Field, in Australia`s red desert centre, who are seeking compensation over 1953 atomic tests by Britain.

Five cases had been lodged in the British courts over illnesses allegedly linked to the fallout from two nuclear weapons exploded in the Great Victoria Desert in October 1953.

"She has been recruited not because of her old man, but because she`s one of the leading silks in the UK," Gillespie told The Australian newspaper.

"We`re so pleased, she`s an incredible individual, sharp as a samurai sword." The firm Hickman and Rose was acting for the group in London, he said. More than 100 Australian Army veterans or their widows have already joined a class action by British soldiers for radiation exposure during the desert tests, which took place between 1952 and 1967.

The local nomadic Maralinga Tjarutja tribes were rounded up and expelled from the area in trains and trucks ahead of the testing programme, but some continued to wander across and camp on contaminated land.

Security at the sites was lax and warning signs were in English and unintelligible to the Aborigines.

Some individuals were compensated following a 1985 Australian government inquiry which heard that tribespeople had to walk barefoot across radiation-poisoned land because boots issued to them by authorities did not fit.

The government in 1994 paid USD 12.2 million in compensation to the local people for damage to their land, and the final testing sites were last month handed back to the tribes after years of remediation work.

About 8,000 Australian soldiers took part in the British nuclear programme, and wore little more than a hat, shorts and boots during tests. They were never warned about the risks, and three-quarters of them have since died.

Britain in 1993 gave Australia an ex gratia payment of GBP 20 million to settle future claims by veterans, on the grounds Canberra, not London, pay out following any successful case.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, January 23, 2010 - 14:55

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