The Mirror’s long campaign on behalf of Britain’s nuclear test veterans has been shortlisted for a major journalism prize.
Our reporter and columnist Susie Boniface, who has covered their fight for recognition since 2002, is among six journalists in the running for the Paul Foot Award given every year by Private Eye magazine.
It is given for the best example of investigative or campaigning journalism, and was set up in memory of revered journalist Paul, who died aged just 66 in 2004.
He was a former columnist for the Eye and also worked for the Mirror for 14 years, where he had a weekly page investigating injustices, including that of the nuclear test veterans.
The Mirror has campaigned for the veterans since they first began coming forward in the 1980s with stories of ill health for themselves and their families. Our columnist William Connor, also known as ‘Cassandra’, witnessed Operation Grapple in 1957, and afterwards promised to win better pay for the servicemen he met while on Christmas Island in the South Pacific.
In 2018, Susie built a website telling the veterans story from the beginning, DAMNED, and helped the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association and their supporters win a meeting with then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
He promised a medal review and new medical research. A medal has been refused three times on the grounds there was no “risk or rigour” to the tests, but this February the government’s own study found test veterans had a greater chance of dying, from cancer and suicide, than other servicemen.
Last year, we launched the Look Me In The Eye campaign to win a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Veterans demanded he become the first PM to hear their stories, face to face, and explain why they didn’t have a medal.
The veterans won a meeting with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who told them “your campaign is our campaign” and was challenged by Susie on Labour’s historic failure to deliver recognition. Last December, the campaigners met metro mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, who likened the test veterans’ plight to that of Hillsborough and urged the PM to fix it.
Earlier this year, Susie uncovered emails showing Ministry of Defence officials had interfered with the medal committee’s decisions, and found memos from 1956 showing the Medical Director General of the Armed Forces agreeing to expose servicemen to cancer-causing levels of radiation, “because otherwise important records and observations should be lost”.
She also uncovered a hidden cache of 1,000 documents, never considered by the Supreme Court when it ruled against the veterans in 2012, proving top brass knew in advance the tests could have serious genetic impacts on the servicemen who took part.
This week, the meeting with the Prime Minister was due to go ahead – but had to be postponed because it fell on the same day as the publication of the Sue Gray report into Partygate. It is being rescheduled.
Previous winners of the award include investigations into Shaken Baby Syndrome, UK involvement in rendition, and the Windrush scandal.
The winner of this year’s award will be announced at a ceremony on June 14.
Voice of the Mirror: Our 40-year campaign is not over yet
For 40 years, the Mirror has campaigned for justice for the brave men who took part in Britain’s nuclear weapons tests.
The Ministry of Defence has fought back every step of the way.
We have told countless heartbreaking stories of grieving mums, children with deformities, men aged before their time and widows struggling to hold their families together, all while campaigning for recognition.
Two years ago we launched an appeal for a medal for the 1,500 survivors.
For the first time we were able to prove some were unwittingly used in experiments.
Our appeal was backed by then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson but his review foundered after he lost his job.
It had only six meetings in two years. They never asked to meet veterans. They never questioned the evidence.
Instead they asked for information from the MoD, which has a track record of denying what its own paperwork later proves.
And as our medal campaign gathered steam, civil servants simultaneously withdrew public documents from the National Archives.
Would anyone working in Whitehall today stay there, if 3 megatons of plutonium exploded south of the river?
The test veterans and their families will never stop fighting. The Mirror will never cease to demand they are heard.
Prime Minister, listen to them. Overturn this disgraceful decision.