An RAF Corporal who was left with a devastating degenerative neurological condition after he was exposed to dangerous toxins while working in ‘Victorian conditions’ has won his 17-year battle for compensation. 

Shaun Wood, 52, from Northallerton, was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy-P (MSAP), a Parkinsonian condition which 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.

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. He is likely to be awarded substantial compensation at a later hearing.

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.

Exposed to solvents including trichloreoethylene and dichloromethane

Mr Wood’s job involved painting aircraft and motor vehicles and through that exposure to solvents including trichloreoethylene and dichloromethane sometimes in excess of 12 hours a day, particularly in the lead up to the first Gulf War, he contracted his 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 after his Parkinsons was diagnosed. Later after examinations by many neurologists tests revealed he had MSA with predominant Parkinsonism.

One of his RAF colleagues who did the same work was also diagnosed with Parkinsons 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 took on the claim for compensation

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 last month 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.

MOD breached their legal duty

Shaun said the judgment is good news for his family: “It has been a very long fight to get to this point from the day I was told back in the 1990s that I wasn’t entitled to legal aid. That was just the start. I never accepted that I wouldn’t be able to get justice and Thompsons Solicitors have been behind me since 2007 and enabled me to fight this to 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.” 

He added: “I have lived with this condition for 17 years now and try not to think too far ahead, we take each day at a time. I was once an extremely fit and active person and there are times when I get frustrated at the amount of time I waste housebound during the colder months. In particular these last two years have been difficult as my walking has become more difficult and my wife Jan has been recovering from breast cancer. We have no idea what the compensation will mean when we finally receive it but I have no doubt it will help to make our every day decisions easier for the entire family.”

Andrew McDonald from Thompsons Solicitors said: “After 17 years Mr Wood has finally been vindicated. The courts have found the protection provided by the MoD was completely inadequate and the exposure levels were massive, especially in the intensive work leading to the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.

“We understand that the MoD intend to appeal against the judgment but we await sight of the grounds. 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.”

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Read more about Your Legal Rights as an Injured Member of the Armed Forces.