'All we want is a medal': Rochdale veteran urges government to honour nuclear test survivors

Video report by ITV Granada Reports' political correspondent Líse McNally.

A veteran from the North West is urging the government to award a medal to survivors of Britain's nuclear tests. John Morris, from Rochdale, did National Service in the 1950s, witnessing five nuclear explosions overseas.

He has had health problems ever since and has wondered whether his exposure to radiation caused the cot death of his baby boy, Steven, who died at just four months old.

John was one of around 20,000 British personnel involved in the testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs, in the Pacific, during the 1950s and 1960s.

He was 19 when he saw a nuclear explosion from 20 miles away - remembering "When it went off, the actual core was as hot as the sun.

"I sat there with a pair of shorts, a shirt, and my hands over my eyes. The light was so bright, that I saw literally all the way through my hands. It was unbelievable."

Veteran John Morris did National Service in the 1950s. He and his descendants have since had health issues. Credit: ITV News

"That was the most frightening experience. And when you were in National Service - you did what you were ordered to do.

"We did not know we were going to be used as an experimental guinea pig team."

John later developed a rare blood disorder which he thinks was linked to radiation - and he was also treated for cancer. He says other veterans he knew also suffered ill health.

John Morris during his National Service. Credit: John Morris

He told ITV Granada Reports: "Two of my friends - one lived in Salford - died of cancer aged 42.

"Another bloke in Rochdale, died of cancer, age 52. Those are just two people that I know of. Both of them could not conceive children."

John believes the effects of the testing also could have led to the cot death of his baby son, Steven, who died of a rare form of lung disease.

Steven Morris was a cot death - John believes his lungs hadn't properly formed. Credit: John Morris

John is asking the Government to award service medals to test veterans to recognise the sacrifices they have made for their country.

John's granddaughter, Laura Morris, says it is important not just for the veterans but also for their families.

Laura said: " I think it opens the doors in terms of what that recognition could lead to. For example - education in schools about this.

"We talk about the First World War and Second, but don't really mention this is our history books.

"As descendants of people that have been radiated,  there's a lot of medical research that really should be happening."

What has the Government said?

The Ministry of Defence told ITV News “We are grateful to all those who participated in the British nuclear testing programme, which played a valuable role towards developing a nuclear deterrent that has ultimately kept Britain safe for decades."

The Ministry of Defence has always maintained that the protection and welfare of those involved in the nuclear testing operations was a vital consideration - and there is no published peer-reviewed evidence of excess illness or mortality among nuclear test veterans as a group.

The Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, Rebecca Long-Bailey, is challenging that.

The Prime Minister has now promised to meet nuclear test veterans and their families.