Ex-RAF corporal sues for £4.9m after linking solvents to his MS

A former RAF corporal is suing the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for almost £5 million after developing multiple sclerosis (MS).

51-year-old Mark Mather, from Totley near Sheffield, blames his disease on his exposure to fumes while painting fighter jets, which left him "high".

He told London's High Court that he and his colleagues were nicknamed "dopers", because they were always "high" and would "sing their way through their days", reports Yorkshire Live.

The dad-of-two also says he was used as a "human pipecleaner" to strip the inside of a Red Arrows Hawk jet.

He is suing for £4.9 million in compensation, blaming the MoD for ineffective PPE which he says did not protect him from inhaling solvents.

Giving evidence, Mr Mather said: "Everything seemed to be amusing, we were always laughing.

"It was such a happy time, we all used to sing. Most days I felt light-headed and dizzy.

"You got headaches and felt a bit nauseous – it put you off your supper. These feelings lasted to the evening."

Michael Rawlinson QC, Mr Mather's lawyer, argued that the PPE provided with was inadequate.

Before 1994, he says he was given only a half-face mask or a paper hood, which fumes could get under.

Later in the 1990s, full-face respirators were introduced but had canisters which were not changed often enough, said the barrister.

Things improved 1998 when a new system was brought in, but Mr Mather says that "during no substantial period of time was his exposure nil".

One of the worst incidents happened at RAF Scampton where Mr Mather claims he performed an "extraordinarily dangerous" job, acting as a "human pipecleaner" stripping paint from inside a narrow air intake.

"The job was carried out by him because he was the only person who was thin enough to fit into the space," his barrister said.

"He was lifted and pushed into the air intake arms first like a 'pipecleaner' by two colleagues and he shuffled down the intake on his stomach.

"He applied paint stripper in the confined space, wearing only the half mask because there was inadequate space for him to wear the air fed hood."

Mr Mather was diagnosed with MS in 2008, having suffered eye problems since 2000.

He claims his exposure to organic solvents "materially contributed" to his disability, more than doubling the risk of developing it.

However the MoD is contesting, with one expert saying he would have "probably" got MS regardless of exposure to solvents.

They explained that there is "no probable, let alone provable" link between his exposure and the development of MS, and that he cannot prove his risk was doubled.

Defence lawyers are also disputing that the MoD breached its duty to Mr Mather, claiming that "suitable and effective" PPE and extraction systems were provided.

MoD barrister Caroline Harrison QC, said: "The defendant’s case is that organic solvents have marginally increased his risk of MS, but that on the strong balance of probabilities, solvents have made no difference and he would have developed MS in any event."

The MoD is also claiming his case should be thrown out because it was brought too late after his diagnosis in 2008, but Mr Mather says he only thought to sue in 2014 after a friend had suggested his MS could be linked to solvent inhalation.

The trial continues.

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