‘Transparency needed’ over Sea King Helicopter cancer links

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Specialist military claims lawyers have today called for greater transparency over a link between cancer and exposure to the exhaust gases and fumes generated by the now retired Sea King Helicopter.

The call to action comes after law firm Simpson Millar successfully settled claims against the MoD on behalf of two former armed forces personnel – including one Pilot who served between 1988 and 2004, and one Captain who served between 1987 and 2009 - who have been diagnosed with incurable cancers.

In both cases the devastating illnesses can be traced back to exposure to the gases that circulated in the cabin and cockpit of the helicopters that they flew on during active service.

While the former airmen – who are now in their 50s and 60s – were not diagnosed with cancer until they had left the armed forces, both have been unable to return to work or take on other roles as a result of their conditions.

The legal action, which was settled out of court with no admission of liability, follows other successful claims bought against the MoD by Zach Stubbings, a former RAF airman who was diagnosed with a multiple myeloma while he was stationed at RAF Valley, Anglesey, as a winch operator in 2011.

He was awarded compensation after proving his incurable bone marrow cancer was caused by years of exposure to helicopter exhaust fumes.

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Jonathan Cloudsdale, a Military Claims Solicitor at Simpson Millar who was involved in the cases, has now called on the MoD to reach out to other Armed Forces personnel who may have been impacted by exposure to the fumes to give them the option to undergo tests and receive treatment.

He said: “The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has a duty to protect those personnel who served on these aircraft from any risk of injury or disease, and they are obliged to take reasonable steps to avoid this. 

“In the cases that have recently settled the cancer diagnosis can be directly linked back to the gases that circulated in the cabin and cockpit of the helicopters that our clients were exposed to. 

“That exposure has had a devastating impact on their lives, and the lives of their families, and greater transparency is now needed about the link between the exposure and cancer.

  • "While our clients are relieved to have received compensation and feel that some form of justice has been done, they remain angry and frustrated that there has been no formal admission of liability and no apology from the MoD."

    Jonathan Cloudsdale

    Military Claims Solicitor

The legal action bought by Simpson Millar on behalf of two clients follows the unveiling of a report dating back to 1999 which was published by the Royal Air Force Institute of Health, which shows that rear aircrew in Sea King helicopters were being exposed to exhaust gases.

The detailed report, made available on the government website, found that while the survey failed to ‘indicate with any accuracy the actual personal exposure level’ due to the effects of high wind speeds caused by the ‘down-wash from the rotor blades’, measures ‘should be taken to reduce exposure’ to as ‘low level’ as is ‘reasonably practicable’.

Recommendations were also included in the paper, including ‘diverting’ the gases of the Sea King helicopters, which were retired from active military operations in 2018, but the lawyers involved in the cases say there was no evidence to suggest that action was taken.

Jonathan added: “While our armed forces put their lives on the line to protect our country, you would expect that every effort would be made to also protect them.

 “It is therefore deeply concerning that while the risks associated with this aircraft in particular were clearly evidenced in the report published in 1999, at no point throughout our legal investigation did evidence come to light that action was taken to mitigate or reduce the impact of the gases on the airmen.

“Further to the settlement of these claims, and the evidence that the cancer can be traced back to the exposure, we feel that the MoD has a moral obligation to reach out to anyone who played a role in the day-to-day running of these aircraft, including Pilots and Crew, to make them aware of the risks.

“While sadly some people might find that the damage has already been done, for many a simple blood test could lead to an early diagnosis which could give them to opportunity to undergo potentially life-extending treatments.”


For further information, interviews or images please contact:

Ashlea McConnell, Consultant

[email protected]; 07852282802

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