Date: 4/1/2004 9:59:15 PM Eastern Standard Time
Veteran's Death 'Linked to Gulf War Service'
By Matt Laddin, PA News
An army veteran’s death was linked to his service in the first Gulf War, a coroner found today.
Lawyers for Major Ian Hill’s family described the verdict as a “landmark decision”, saying it would give hope to around 2,000 other veterans.
The 54-year-old from Knutsford, Cheshire, died in March 2001 from a heart attack. He blamed a decade of failing health on Gulf War Syndrome caused by vaccinations and tablets he was given upon enlisting.
Solicitor Mark McGhee said that today was the first time a British court had recognised the connection between Gulf War illnesses and a veteran’s death.
Earlier coroner Nicholas Rheinberg, sitting at Warrington Coroner’s Court, had said: “It is not for me to make sweeping conclusions based on a day’s hearing on the existence of Gulf War Syndrome.”
But he added: “I do not believe it would do justice to Ian Hill to describe his death as natural causes.
“I am going to describe his death as natural causes to which his military service in the 1991 Gulf War Campaign was a contributing factor.”
The court heard how Major Hill, a trained nurse, flew to the Middle East in January 1991 to help set up operating theatres.
At the time the father-of-four, with 20 years military experience, was serving with the Royal Medical Army Corp.
Within four days of arriving in the Gulf Major Hill became seriously ill with bronco-pneumonia. Courses of antibiotics did not help and he was repatriated back to Britain.
Over the next decade his health deteriorated. He found other people with similar ailments and went on to set up the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association.
In a statement before his death he said: “My psychological profile changed. I could not sleep, I was irritable, I had mood swings and short term memory loss. It was completely out of character.”
His widow Carole Avison, who has now reverted to using her maiden name, told the court her husband’s death had left her very bitter.
The 56-year-old, who now lives in Huddersfield, said she had met many of the sick veterans.
She added: “I have seen this group of people and I have listened to them, and I don’t believe in fairy tales.
“These are genuine people, they have something wrong with them, and wanted to know what was wrong with them. The answers were not coming forward.
“They were ill people. On the outside they looked okay, but there was something wrong with them on the inside.
“Someone had given them a death sentence.”
Professor Malcolm Hooper told the court that he had examined a large number of sick veterans and he put their illnesses down to a number of factors vaccinations for Anthrax and Plague, exposure to certain pesticides, exposure to Sarin nerve gas, and the NAPS tablets soldiers had to take.
Professor Hooper described Major Hill’s illness as a “classic case of Gulf War Syndrome”.
He added that there were a cluster of symptoms unique to veterans of the Gulf War including pain, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, and neurological damage.
Mr Rheinberg said he was particularly swayed by the evidence of Dr Stephen Saltissi.
Dr Saltissi, who runs the cardiac unit at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, was called as an independent witness to the hearing.
He said that Major Hill’s potential for a heart attack was increased by obesity, physical inactivity and depression.
He added: “These three factors did play a part in his illness and worsened his risk profile.
“They can all be traced back to his Gulf War experience and the health problems that arose from it.”
He guessed that they brought forward the potential for a heart attack by about five years.
Following the hearing chairman of the Gulf War Veterans and Families Association Shaun Rusling, from Hull, said: “It’s a very significant finding.
“It will affect many widows’ pensions, because there are a lot more people out there like Ian.”
The 44-year-old added: “No compensation has been paid out and the veterans have been treated appallingly by the Ministry of Defence.”
He said today’s decision should lead to a public inquiry into the existence of Gulf War Syndrome.
Major Hill’s widow Carole said: “He was a good man, and a good father. We were robbed of our life together.”