An RAF Corporal who was left with a devastating degenerative neurological condition after he was exposed to dangerous toxins while working in ‘Victorian conditions’ is being forced to again defend his case for compensation this time in the Court of Appeal. 

Shaun Wood, 52, from Northallerton, was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy-P (MSAP), a Parkinsonian condition that affects the nervous system, after exposure to a lethal cocktail of solvents as a painter and finisher at RAF sites across the world. 

There is no cure for the condition, which has left him needing to use a wheelchair.

Dangerous chemicals at work caused his condition

Last year the High Court at the District Registry in Middlesbrough upheld his claims that he was exposed to dangerous chemicals at work and they caused his condition. The decision came after a 17–year battle for justice.

Now the Ministry of Defence are appealing the decision at a hearing to be heard at the Court of Appeal in London on Monday, March 28 and Tuesday, March 29, 2011.

Mr Wood is being represented by serious injuries and military claims specialists Thompsons Solicitors.

Shaun said: “I have been fighting for compensation for 18 years and I don’t intend to give up now. It was a great relief when the High Court upheld my case and I have every faith that Thompsons will help us get justice in the end.

“I come from a military family and making the decision to pursue compensation went against my instincts but when I die my wife will be left without an income because my war pension will be taken away and I have always wanted to ensure that she is provided for in the future.”

Job involved painting aircraft and motor vehicles

Representing Mr Wood, Andrew McDonald from Thompsons Solicitors said: “It beggars belief that the MoD are again doing their very best to deny Mr Wood compensation. We remain optimistic that the judgement will be upheld and that Shaun will receive the compensation to which he is entitled as a result of the MOD’s breach of their legal duty.”

Shaun, whose father served as a Lancaster Bomber Navigator in the Second World War, joined the military from school in 1975 signing up as a painter and finisher in the belief it would provide him with an interesting career, which would lead onto further employment opportunities after he was discharged.

He worked in RAF sites across the UK and abroad, including RAF Abingdon, RAF Bruggen and RAF Leeming.

Mr Wood’s job involved painting aircraft and motor vehicles and through that exposure to solvents, now banned by the European Union for consumer use as known carcinogens (including trichloroethylene and dichloromethane) sometimes in excess of 12 hours a day, particularly in the lead up to the first Gulf War, he contracted his illness.

Medically discharged as a result of illness

At the time he had no idea the exposure to the cocktail of chemicals would damage his health in the long term. 

Shaun, who is married with three sons, two of whom served in the RAF, was medically discharged in 1995, two years after his Parkinson’s was diagnosed. After a few years his Parkinson’s had deteriorated and with the examinations by many neurologists the diagnosis of MSA with predominant Parkinsonism was given.

Shaun said “It was always a case of Parkinsonism from the start, but being so young, it was difficult to make a clear diagnosis. It took a further seven years before MSA-P was clearly diagnosed”.

One of his RAF colleagues who did the same work was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at a similarly young age as Mr Wood.

Convinced that his diagnosis was work related Mr Wood enquired about receiving legal aid to pursue a claim for compensation but was unable to get legal representation.

Thompsons Solicitors made Personal Injury Claim

In 2007, when a third RAF painter successfully claimed compensation in Scotland, he contacted Thompsons Solicitors who took on his case.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) challenged his claim arguing it should have been brought within three years of his diagnosis but their objection was dismissed at an earlier hearing.

At a five day hearing in Middlesbrough in April 2010 the level of Shaun’s exposure to toxins during the first Gulf War was shown to have been between ten and twenty times the recommended maximum exposure levels. 

The Ministry of Defence accepted it had breached its duty of care in exposing Shaun to the toxins and by failing to provide him with any adequate protective equipment or ventilation but tried to argue that this exposure hadn’t caused Shaun’s condition. 

On 5 May 2010 the trial judge found that the toxins Shaun was exposed to, particularly at the dangerously high levels, had caused the majority of the symptoms from which he now suffers.

Now the MoD is appealing on the grounds that there was an error in relation to the diagnosis of Mr Wood’s condition that there was an error in finding that his condition was caused by exposure to solvents and there was an error in ‘implicitly’ finding that the causative exposure happened after May 1987.