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 a groundbreaking decision after the Court of Appeal dismissed the Ministry of Defence’s case.

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.

Today (Thursday, July 7, 2011) the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the MoD bringing to an end Mr Wood’s 18-year-battle for justice. It ruled that on the evidence presented – which was not rebutted by the MoD – that there was in legal terms a “probable connection” between heavy solvent exposure and neurological damage.

The decision paves the way for other people who develop neurological conditions in similar circumstances to pursue compensation.

Thompsons Solicitors have been behind me since 2007

Mr Wood said: “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 18 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 also had the added strain of this appeal on our shoulders.

“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.”

Protection provided by the MoD was completely inadequate

Representing Mr Wood, Andrew McDonald from Thompsons Solicitors added: “After 18 years Mr Wood has finally been vindicated.

“This is a groundbreaking decision which is a result of a tireless legal battle by Mr Wood and Thompsons Solicitors.

“This is the first time there has been any adjudication of the link between organic solvents and this kind of neurological damage. We expect that this decision could be used favourably for other claimants who have developed neurological conditions in similar circumstances.”

“The High Court 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. Now the Court of Appeal has unanimously dismissed the MoD’s case for appeal.”

The case will now be transferred to Middlesbrough High Court where damages will be awarded.

Job involved painting aircraft and motor vehicles

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), for 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, 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.

Colleague who did the same work was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease

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.

In 2007, when another 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.

Exposure to toxins during the first Gulf War

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.

Soon after the High Court decision the MoD entered its appeal with the Court of Appeal, which was heard in March.