9 octobre 2012

¤ A la base militaire de « Porton Down », on a « enfumé » les anglais pendant cinquante ans !

Classé dans : Chemtrails et pluies de fils/fibres/etc...,Etrange,Outils/Bon à savoir — uriniglirimirnaglu @ 3 : 25

Tested to destruction

In 1953, British servicemen volunteered for what they thought were harmless scientific experiments. Instead, they became unwitting participants in the military’s race to beat the Soviet Union in the development of chemical warfare. This week, police announced the first investigation into the death of one young airman who was gassed to death. Rob Evans reports on the human guinea pigs of the cold war

Inquiry into nerve gas cover-up
Defence Evaluation Research Agency homepage

Porton Down

Ronnie Maddison thought he was helping the nation find a cure for the common cold. That was what many servicemen who answered the appeals to take part in experiments at Porton Down thought they were volunteering for. It was 1953, the middle of the cold war, and the military had little interest in telling them any different.

So when the scientists put out the call for 140 human « guinea pigs » between April 25 and June 5, Ronnie signed up. At 10.17am on May 6 he found himself sitting in a sealed chamber with five other men in Porton Down. Scientists then dripped liquid gas from pipettes through two layers of military clothing on to his skin. At 10.40 he « complained of feeling ‘queer’ and was seen to be sweating », according to official reports obtained by the Guardian.

Mike Cox, one of the six volunteers who had gone in with him, remembers that Maddison « went quiet and then sort of flopped over ». Porton technicians immediately helped him out of the room into the open air. It was the last time Cox saw him – Porton staff did not tell him or the others that someone in their experiment had died.

At 10.47, the ambulance arrived and whisked Maddison off to Porton’s hospital. Within minutes, the muscles in his face began to twitch and his breathing « became laboured ». « His colour turned ashen grey », then his skin became bluish and « the pulse at the wrist could not be felt ». More Porton scientists rushed to the hospital to resuscitate Maddison – his limbs were massaged, and hot water bottles pressed on to his body.

They struggled until 1.30pm to save Maddison’s life, but even with all their experience of gas they couldn’t revive him. His death was timed at 11am; the cause was « sudden heart failure ». He had not been helping to find a cure for the common cold; he had been killed by sarin nerve gas, the unwitting participant of the British military’s race to beat the Soviet Union in the development of chemical warfare. A human guinea pig sent to the gas chamber.

Yesterday – prompted by claims made by another former serviceman, Gordon Bell, who says his health was ruined by the same tests – police announced that they had launched the first investigation into Maddison’s death. Wiltshire Constabulary is considering charges of corporate manslaughter, assault and administering noxious substances.

The Guardian has pieced together a full account of the death of the serviceman for the first time. Unearthed from the Public Record Office are potentially damning documents which raise the chilling possibility that Porton was aware the amount of nerve gas administered to Maddison was dangerous and could kill a human.

Set in thousands of acres of picturesque Wiltshire countryside, Porton Down, home to the largest number of rare butterflies in Britain, is, on the face of it, an unlikely site for chemical and germ warfare experiments. Maddison, though, was not such an unlikely candidate for the experiments they conducted there.

He was born into a working-class family in the town of Consett in County Durham at the time of the Jarrow march. His cousin Ella Forster remembers him as a « good, nice, reserved kind of boy » who was well-liked and enjoyed a « loving, close family ». His parents, Tommy and Lily, doted on Ronnie. « He was the apple of their eye, to tell you the truth, » she says.

Ronnie joined the RAF, and by 1953 had become a mechanic at RAF Ballykelly in the then sleepy province of Northern Ireland. Like most of his peers he was trusting. « In those days, » says Cox, « although faith in the authorities was beginning to wear a bit thin, there was still a feeling that they knew what they were doing, that they would not willingly subject us to anything that was in the least bit nasty, or likely to have horrendous consequences. »

For the past 80 years, Porton Down has been circulating appeals among servicemen, calling on them to come forward and take part in experiments. Thousands have responded during that time and, in return for extra pay and leave, have been exposed to chemicals in the tests. Many volunteers now believe that they have been suffering lingering illnesses as a result of these experiments.

In the early 1950s, nearly all of Porton’s scientific work focused on the deadly nerve gases that had originally been discovered by the Nazis. In the clandestine atmosphere of the cold war, scientists were under great pressure to grasp quickly how these new, powerful agents worked and how they attacked the human body.

The British and Americans were keen to manufacture the potent gases in great quantity, and feared that the Soviets were doing the same research. It was Maddison’s bad luck that he went to Porton when the facility’s human experiments with nerve gas were in full flow.

Nobody quite knows why the 20-year-old airman volunteered. Forster believes that he was homesick and wanted the extra leave to go back home and be with his family in Consett. His best friend, Jack Wilson, said Ronnie had told him that he was taking part in some « mild » experiments to help find a cure for the common cold at a place which was more like a « holiday camp » than an army base.

It was a common assumption among servicemen at the time that Porton was working towards a cure for the cold, and the military, which had always struggled to get enough volunteers, did little to dispel this notion. One Porton official wrote frankly in 1961 of the wording of the appeals for volunteers: « Experience has shown that detailed description tends to deter the serviceman and so now very little is said… the fewer details the better, but we must not be accused of ‘insulting the public’s intelligence’. « 

In fact, Maddison was one of 396 human « guinea pigs » in a huge experiment with one aim: to determine the amount of nerve gas « which when applied to the clothed or bare skin of men would cause incapacitation or death ». Porton scientists were seeking to administer « sub-lethal » doses of nerve gas to the test subjects, measure the effect on a key enzyme, and then extrapolate these findings to estimate the lethal dose.

None of the scientists had anticipated that the convulsions suffered by Maddison would be so great, such that it was « extremely difficult », one report noted, to inject him with a life-saving treatment.

The scientists had pumped his chest so hard to restart his breathing that it caused « severe bruising and vein congestion, so that over a pint of blood was found in the abdomen ». Large amounts of mucus had « badly obstructed » his throat and mouth.

« These scientists would have been petrified, » says chemical weapons expert Dr Alistair Hay of Leeds university. « That’s why they tried so long to revive him. This would have sent huge shock waves through the system. »

The government immediately hushed up details of Maddison’s death, a silence which continued for decades. Only Maddison’s father was allowed to attend the inquest, which was held in secret. He was sworn to secrecy – an oath which he held to the end of this days, frustratingly for the rest of the family.

Two inquiries were held after the tragedy. Both were secret. One, instigated by Whitehall, concluded that it had been « reasonable » for the scientists to have conducted the experiment « in the light of the knowledge available ».

It ruled that the death was caused by « personal idiosyncrasy » – Maddison either had an « unusual sensitivity » to the effects of nerve gas, or his skin « allowed an unusually rapid absorption » of the lethal liquid.

A second inquiry decided that the experiments were vital to the nation’s defences and should be allowed to continue, but with certain restrictions: no more than 5 milligrams of sarin could be dropped on to the skin of human guinea pigs from then on. This was very much less than the amount – 200 milligrams – which had been administered to Maddison.

Establishing who knew what and when many years ago is a difficult task, especially in such a furtive facility as Porton. However, buried in the public record office are two progress reports which summarise Porton’s work on understanding nerve gases.

In both reports – one from June 1949, the other from August 1950 – Porton scientists estimated that any dose of sarin greater than 200 milligrams « on the bare skin would present a serious hazard, and possibly prove fatal, to man ».

As well as Maddison, around 100 other men in the same experiment – a quarter of the total – were contaminated with between 200 and 300 milligrams on their bare skin, at least one of whom nearly died as well. This man is known in the test report only as subject number 702, and is recorded as having felt ill after leaving the gas chamber. He « salivated profusely and had spasms of the hands and arms », and « rapidly became unconscious ». His whole body then went into spasm and his breathing was « strident ». Then he stopped breathing altogether, but thankfully recovered.

Nowadays, the lethal dose of sarin on the skin of an averagely built man is estimated to be around 1,800 milligrams. But back in the early 1950s, Porton scientists could not have been sure exactly what constituted a lethal dose. Dr Hay says that the scientists must have come across data that reassured them that 200 milligrams was a safe dose: « Otherwise, someone would have to be ignorant or just arrogant to assume that you could go ahead and apply 200 milligrams and not have a problem. »

The experiment report implies that Porton only realised fully that sarin can affect victims in vastly different ways after the experiment Maddison was involved with. While Maddison died, Mike Cox and other men who received precisely the same dose felt nothing.

Gordon Bell, the former Porton guinea pig who has campaigned for police investigation, believes that Maddison was killed in a « reckless and irresponsible » experiment.

His words could not contrast more strongly with those of RAF commanding officers in the 50s. They were told to encourage their men to volunteer by reassuring them that the « tests are carefully planned to avoid the slightest chance of danger and are under expert medical supervision ». As it turned out, this advice cost Maddison his life.


Ministers ‘in dark’ over Porton Down

Senior ministers are in the dark about many aspects of Britain’s secret chemical weapons centre at Porton Down, a leading Labour backbencher warned yesterday.

Speaking the day after a criminal investigation was launched into claims that deadly nerve gas was tested on young national servicemen in the 1950s, the chairman of the Commons defence select committee said that it was difficult to keep tabs on the centre, in Wiltshire.

Bruce George, Labour MP for Walsall South, told BBC Radio 4′s World At One programme: « It would be misleading for me to say that we know everything that is going on in Porton Down. It is too big for us to know and, secondly, there are many things happening there which I am not certain that ministers are fully aware of, let alone parliamentarians. »

His remarks came after Wiltshire police confirmed that a « full and impartial » investigation had been launched into allegations that national servicemen were tricked into taking part in chemical tests at Porton Down after being told they were for research for a cure to the common cold.

Rick Hall, Porton Down’s technical director, told the Today programme: « Nowadays although the establishment here has a sinister reputation it is in fact very open.

« The majority of the scientific work that we carry out is published in the open technical literature. We talk to the press and the media on a regular basis. »

John Spellar, the armed forces minister, said that Porton Down had opened up in recent years. But he admitted that much of the centre’s work remained secret. « They undertake enormously important work on defensive measures and obviously you don’t want to publicise the details of all of that, » he said. « We believe there are very good controls, that there are ethical procedures in place. »


Scandal of nerve gas tests

British military scientists exposed more than 3,100 human « guinea pigs » to potent nerve gases in top-secret chemical warfare tests spanning four decades, according to new figures obtained by the Guardian.The figures show for the first time the substantial scale of the nerve gas experiments which were carried out on human subjects by the poison gas establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire.Porton’s total is three times the number of the US, which has also admitted conducting human trials with nerve gases. The most recent tests were carried out 10 years ago, but officials have not ruled out conducting further tests in the future.Police last month launched the first criminal investigation into the death of 20-year-old airman Ronald Maddison during nerve gas experiments in 1953.Detectives are also inquiring into allegations that military personnel were tricked into taking part in chemical warfare experiments at Porton Down.

An annual breakdown of the number of human subjects tested with nerve gases, kept secret for many years, shows that Mr Maddison died at the peak of Porton’s nerve gas experiments. In the 12 months leading up to his death, 531 men had been exposed to nerve gas. The total had been steadily rising during the previous three years, from 159, to 234, to 384.

With a large pool of human subjects at their disposal, Porton scientists were able to conduct a panoply of tests with a variety of objectives.

Mr Maddison was one of 396 men in a particularly large experiment in which Porton scientists sought to estimate how much nerve gas would kill a man through layers of clothing or on the bare skin.

The deadly nerve gases were originally developed as weapons by the Nazis. Britain and its allies only discovered the extraordinarily powerful new poison gas as the Nazis were being over-run at the end of the second world war. Within two weeks of finding the new weapon, Porton scientists had tested it on humans, in April 1945.

The bulk of Porton’s experiments were done in the early years of the Cold War, when Porton scientists worked rapidly to crack the secrets of how the new weapons harmed the human body.

In the first 15 years after the second world war, Porton used 2,644 men in nerve gas experiments, at a time when Britain was actively preparing to manufacture massive quantities of nerve gas to counter the Soviet chemical arsenal.

Many human « guinea pigs » had liquid nerve gas dripped onto their skin, while others breathed in the gas. The doses administered varied, but Porton insists that all the amounts of gas in the trials were « medically safe ». Sarin was the main nerve gas used in the experiments, although some trials involved two other nerve gases, tabun and soman.

From the 1960s, the nerve gas tests slowed down. Between 1966 and 1989, 545 human « guinea pigs » were subjected to the gas.

Porton officials say that this was the last time humans were tested with nerve gas. However, they do not rule out the possibility of administering nerve gas to human subjects in the future. At a cost of £3.5m, a new gas chamber was built and opened in 1996, with a projected life of at least 20 years.

The annual breakdown of tests has been collated from figures disclosed to Ken Livingstone MP and declassified documents in the Public Record Office.

Mr Livingstone said: « This is a massive scandal. We need a full public inquiry to get all the facts. The service personnel who were exposed should get all the medical care and compensation which they deserve. »

The US government banned all chemical warfare experiments on humans in 1975 after press revelations triggered a public outcry. Until that year, 1,159 military personnel had been exposed by the American military to nerve gas during the Cold War.

Canada is the only other country which has admitted conducting nerve gas tests on humans, saying that a « small number » of experiments ended in 1968.

It is likely that other countries, such as the former Soviet Union, Iraq, and France, which have had considerable poison gas programmes over the years, have tested humans with nerve gas, but details are unconfirmed and sketchy.

Related story:
August 27 Human trials for plague vaccine


Police widen Porton Down inquiry

Wiltshire police are investigating the « suspicious » deaths of 25 ex-servicemen who were the subject of experiments while at Porton Down germ warfare base, it was reported last night.

Detectives are said to have widened an inquiry, first revealed by the Guardian, which had initially been confined to the death of one man who underwent tests using the nerve agent sarin.

The Daily Mail claims that relatives of other deceased Porton Down veterans had contacted detectives following publicity about the inquiry.

Last night, neither Wiltshire police or the ministry of defence were able to confirm that the investigation had been scaled up. The latest report claimed that a special squad of 14 detectives, led by a detective superintendent, and including two officers seconded from the ministry of defence are conducting the inquiry.

They are expected to begin examining the death certificates and medical records of the alleged victims early next year but no exhumations of bodies are said to be planned.

Another avenue of inquiry would be to interview at least 300 former servicemen who survived but claim their health has suffered as a result.

If the police team finds that any offences have been committed, they are likely to ask the crown prosecution service for advice on how to pursue the investigation.

Concern over Porton Down has risen steadily on the back of complaints from forces personnel who volunteered to take part in the experiments they believed would combat the common cold.

However, many now claim they were exposed to deadly chemical agents which left a catalogue of respiratory illnesses, skin problems, heart and lung ailments, poor eyesight and depression.

In August, it was revealed that police were investigating the death in 1953 of a 20-year-old RAF aircraftsman, Ronald Maddison, said to have had 200mg of sarin dripped onto his arm.


Trials of nerve gas proposed in 1995

Porton scientists sought to perform tests on military volunteers.

Military scientists wanted to test potentially lethal nerve gas on humans as recently as four years ago, ministry of defence internal documents reveal.Under the proposal, military personnel would have been exposed to low levels of sarin nerve gas for 10 hours at the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down in Wiltshire in 1995. But the test did not go ahead after the ministry decided the experiment could be done through computer modelling instead.Nerve gas experiments on humans have never been formally stopped at Porton, even though Britain’s closest allies in the chemical warfare field, the United States and Canada, officially halted all such trials more than 20 years ago.Last month, the Guardian revealed that Porton had tested nerve gas on humans during the cold war, exposing more than 3,100 military personnel in gas chambers between 1945 and 1989. Many now claim their health has been damaged.Labour MP Ken Livingstone said: « I wonder if this latest test was really necessary. Since the end of the second world war, Porton scientists have tried out nerve gas on a vast number of people in a variety of experiments.

« Why did they want to do more? Many volunteers now appear to be suffering from these tests. Surely these experiments must be stopped. »

Porton’s experiments are being subjected to a lengthy investigation by Wiltshire police. Since August, a squad of 14 officers has been examining the case of Ronald Maddison, a 20-year-old RAF mechanic who died in 1953 after liquid sarin was dropped on his skin.

They are also investigating whether people were duped into volunteering. A spokeswoman yesterday denied reports this week that the inquiry had been widened.

A full list of human experiments is described for the first time in annual reports of Porton’s ethics committee, which have been released by the establishment to Mr Livingstone. These disclose that four years ago, scientists proposed a « study of the effects of prolonged exposure to a low concentration of sarin vapour on vision and performance » of volunteers. The proposal was submitted to the establishment’s ethics committee, and rejected.

The last time Porton tested nerve gas on humans, in 1989, was also to assess the effects on the eye. Porton has disclosed to Mr Livingstone that in that trial, 23 humans were exposed to « low levels » of sarin for more than six hours.

« The response of the volunteers exposed was variable, » according to Porton staff, who concluded that the amount of sarin used in this experiment would not have prevented military personnel from carrying out their combat duties.

Many of Porton’s tests during the cold war concentrated on establishing how nerve gas attacked the eye, mainly to find out whether troops could carry on fighting on a battlefield and to design defensive measures.

Nerve gas constricts the pupils rapidly so that vision becomes very dim and blurred in broad daylight, sometimes for several days.

The report of one experiment uncovered by the Guardian shows that in 1956, 211 humans were exposed to sarin. The men were sent into gas chambers, and told to remove their gas masks for up to two minutes. They commented they felt that « they had blinkers on », or that « it feels like you are looking down a gun barrel ».

A Porton scientist recorded: « Bright lights or exposure to bright sunshine definitely increased the eye pain… Focusing on nearby subjects, such as looking at the finger close to the nose, caused an increase in pain. »

The reports show that between 1995 and 1997, Porton’s experiments used around 50-60 military personnel and were mostly aimed at testing defensive equipment against chemical and biological weapons. In some trials, volunteers were administered protective drugs to see if there were any side effects.

Porton last night said the sarin trial was designed to help RAF pilots operate in a contaminated environment after a chemical attack.


Germ war cloud floated over shire counties

Area from Yeovil to Guildford secretly sprayed in 1950s as Porton Down tried to counter feared Soviet biological attack in cold war.

The names of a string of towns and villages from Yeovil to Guildford which were secretly sprayed in large-scale germ warfare experiments in the 1950s can today be revealedin newly released documents.

Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Dorset, Somerset and Surrey were the main areas for the trials conducted from the chemical and biological warfare establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire. The trials are now the subject of an official inquiry by an independent scientist.

The ministry of defence has conceded that the chemical spray could have been harmful and agreed earlier this year to set up the inquiry to establish whether the trials caused any illnesses among the public.

It will be the second inquiry into the panoply of trials during which the chemical spray and bacteria were covertly dispersed over huge swathes of Britain during the cold war.

Scientists from Porton Down sought to determine how vulnerable Britain was to biological attack and to find ways of protecting the country.

Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell, said yesterday: « It is astounding that the government could expose British people, who knew nothing for decades, to possible harm in these trials. It is ironic that this was done in the cause of defending the country. It was as if whole chunks of the country had been turned into an experimental laboratory. »

Porton is also being investigated by police over its gas chamber experiments on human « guinea pigs » and the death of a young serviceman in a nerve gas test.

The new batch of documents – released to Mr Taylor by Porton – detail how the scientists began the trials in 1953. They were worried that the Russians could disseminate a cloud of deadly germs over massive tracts of Britain from a ship or plane.

To assess how far such a cloud would float over the country, Porton scientists decided to disperse a marker chemical – known as zinc cadmium sulphide – to simulate the path of these clouds.

These fluorescent particles could be traced and counted at numerous sampling points.

In the first trial in November 1953 the chemical was sprayed in an arc from a disused RAF station near Beaulieu in Hampshire northwards for up to 50 miles over Winchester towards Newbury, Berkshire, and Devizes, Wiltshire.

In March 1954, the chemical was again sprayed from Beaulieu, but this time over Shaftesbury and Blandford, Dorset, to Yeovil, Somerset, 50 miles away.

This trial was repeated a month later, although this time the compound was emitted from Porton itself.

In May 1954, Porton scientists released the zinc cadmium sulphide from an RAF base near Yatesbury, Wiltshire, southwards over Warminster, Shaftesbury and Blandford. The sampling points were erected in lines 25 miles away between Salisbury and Mere, Wiltshire, and 50 miles away between Hurn and Cerne Abbas, Dorset.

Two months later, the chemical was dispersed from RAF Hullavington near Chippenham, Wiltshire, eastwards, with the lines of samplers placed firstly in a line 25 miles away near Hungerford, Berkshire and then 50 miles away between Pangbourne and Basingstoke in Hampshire.

A week later, the chemical was sprayed over 80 miles. A generator was towed along a road near Frome, Somerset, while it spewed out the chemical for an hour. Thirty miles away, sampling machines between Salisbury and Marlborough, Wiltshire, were used to monitor the cloud. Another line of samplers had been positioned near Guildford in Surrey, between Ottershaw and Selsey Bill on the Sussex coast.

The experiments changed tack in 1955. On six occasions, Porton scientists disseminated large quantities of the chemical for 25 miles around their establishment so that RAF planes could fly through the clouds and measure their progress. Sampling equipment fitted on to vehicles also tracked the particles on roads around Wiltshire.

From 1956, the trials were greatly expanded as military planes began to spray large amounts of zinc cadmium sulphide around the country.

It was revealed last year that in at least 12 trials in the late 1950s, these planes flew long distances – usually 250 miles – along the coast, dropping the chemical which then drifted miles inland.

In one trial, zinc cadmium sulphide was discharged from a plane from Cornwall to Sussex. Samples of the cloud were collected throughout south-west and central England, parts of Wales, and as far as Yorkshire.

Scientists wanted to see if it was possible to hit a specific target, Coventry, with the particles. Virtually every region in England and Wales was blanketed with the chemical at one time or another in these tests.

The MoD has now conceded that since the end of the trials, « doubts » about the safety of zinc cadmium sulphide have arisen.

The ministry argued that the compound was « probably harmless » and « probably caused no human illness », but set up the inquiry to settle the matter.

A ministry spokeswoman said the MoD had had difficulty finding a scientist with the right expertise to head the inquiry.

An earlier inquiry has already been conducted into another set of germ warfare trials. In the 1960s and 1970s, micro-organisms were sprayed extensively over populated parts of Dorset, Hampshire and Devon, triggering protests from residents when they were revealed two years ago.

The inquiry by an Oxford university microbiologist, Brian Spratt, concluded last January that the trials were unlikely to have harmed the overwhelming majority of healthy residents, but a small number of vulnerable, or already sick people could have suffered infections.


Chemical warfare trials short of volunteers

Poor rewards and overstretched units mean forces personnel are slow to respond to appeals for ‘guinea pigs’ from Porton Down scientists.

Military scientists have had difficulty in recruiting enough human « guinea pigs » for their chemical warfare experiments in recent years, internal documents from the ministry of defence reveal.

The shortage has slowed the rate of experiments at the secretive Porton Down chemical defence establishment in Wiltshire, a source said.

An official history of the human trials, obtained by the Guardian, catalogues how Porton Down frequently struggled to attract enough volunteers for its experiments between the 1920s and the 1960s.

Its recruitment practices during the cold war are being investigated by Wiltshire police after human guinea pigs complained that they were tricked into taking part in poison gas experiments.

The guinea pigs claim that they had volunteered for research to find a cure for the common cold but ended up in Porton Down’s gas chambers.

Wiltshire detectives are also examining the death of Ronald Maddison, 20, an airman who had nerve gas dripped on to his arm in a 1953 trial.

Porton Down is believed to have conducted the longest running programme of chemical warfare experiments on humans in the world. At least 20,000 volunteers have taken part in the past 80 years, although even this number has not been enough to satisfy the scientists’ demands.

The volunteers, recruited from military units, often spend around two weeks at Porton Down.

Recent recruitment figures are in annual reports of the establishment’s independent ethics committee, which monitors the tests, and have been released to the Liberal Democrats’ economy spokesman, Matthew Taylor.

The latest figures show that 72 volunteers took part in the experiments in 1998, two thirds of the overall number requested.

In 1996 50 volunteers were recruited, just under half of the total wanted. In other years since 1994, between 71% and 77% of the number requested took part in tests.

Mr Taylor said yesterday: « Given Porton Down’s record, no wonder it’s having problems getting volunteers for its experiments.

« Many volunteers from the past are complaining that their health has been damaged by tests at Porton Down. The government has failed to investigate their health problems properly.

« This does not inspire confidence among service men and women to make themselves available for the tests. »

The shortage of volunteers has not prevented tests from being completed.

A source close to Porton Down suggested that military personnel were reluctant to volunteer because they were worried about what the scientists would do to them; the financial inducements were poor and their commanding officers were unwilling to let them leave their units.

A spokeswoman said Britain’s military commitments abroad, for example in the former Yugoslavia, prevented some personnel from volunteering. « It may not be easy for military units to release service personnel to go to Porton for two week periods. » Recruitment had improved in recent months, but figures could not be released.

Compared with the cold war period, Porton Down’s programme of experiments has been much scaled down, typically using fewer than 100 volunteers a year.

The volunteers mainly test equipment which protects individuals from chemical and biological weapons. They are also given anti-gas drugs to see if they have any unpleasant side effects. Volunteers have not been exposed to poison gases since 1989.

The official history of the trials – unearthed in the public records office – charts Porton Down’s woes in recruiting volunteers.

In 1927 the scientists complained that the flow of subjects for their experiments was « insufficient ». In 1937 they were again grumbling about the « irregular supply ».

In the late 1940s they lamented that « each year saw the perennial crisis with regard to supply ».

By the 1960s the response to appeals for volunteers remained « poor ».

It was suggested that the decline in numbers « was closely linked » to the end of national service, which had provided 30% of the human guinea pigs.


Germ trials ‘did not harm public’

The health of the British public was not endangered by secret large-scale germ warfare simulations carried out during the cold war, an official inquiry decided yesterday.

A chemical spray was dispersed over large areas of Britain between 1953 and 1964 as military scientists sought to establish whether the country was vulnerable to biological attack. In some trials, planes flew up to 250 miles along the coast, releasing the chemical, which drifted huge distances inland.

The Ministry of Defence last year commissioned a team of independent scientists to investigate whether the trials were safe after doubts about the spray – zinc cadmium sulphide – were raised. The team scrutinised whether cadmium in the spray could have harmed members of the public who breathed it in.

Yesterday, the head of the team, Peter Lachmann, a retired professor of immunology at Cambridge University, said: « We conclude that the cadmium exposure arising from these trials did not significantly increase the level to which the population is normally exposed ».

He added: « The available evidence indicates that there was, in the event, no danger to health involved. »

The Guardian revealed last November how the chemical was sprayed across towns and villages from Yeovil to Guildford in some of the trials.


Straw faces Labour revolt on secrecy on ‘right to know’

Freedom of information: special report

Jack Straw faces a large scale rebellion next week over plans to give ministers and council leaders the right to ban public access to secret documents – regardless of rights under the freedom of information bill.

The home secretary’s latest proposals have infuriated four of parliament’s leading figures who yesterday announced they have tabled changes to his bill when it comes back to the Commons next week.

The rebellion is being led by four Commons committee chairmen – three Labour and the fourth a surprise Tory rebel – who want to strengthen the public’s « right to know » under the legislation.

They were expected yesterday to become a rallying point for some 200 Labour rebels who have signed a parliamentary motion demanding stronger legislation to end Whitehall secrecy.

So serious are ministers taking the revolt that Mike O’ Brien – Jack Straw’s trusted deputy handling open government – is carrying a list of the rebels in his ministerial red box for instant reference.

The four senior rebels are David Davis, Tory chairman of the public accounts committee; Giles Radice, chairman of the Treasury committee; Tony Wright, chairman of the Commons public administration committee; and Robin Corbett, chairman of the home affairs committee. They were joined yesterday by former minister Mark Fisher; Tory freedom of information campaigner, Richard Shepherd and Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman, Robert Maclennan.

The rebels are particularly angry about Mr Straw’s new plan – put into the bill under the guise of offfering more freedom of information – allowing ministers, council leaders and the new London mayor the right of veto over the release of documents. The ban would apply even if the council and ministry had been ordered to release documents by the new information commissioner, Elizabeth France.

Mr Davis yesterday said the secret services were behind Jack Straw’s determination to use ministerial vetos.

He cited a three-year fight to release a secret National Audit Office report on overspending by the secret services on their luxurious headquarters. « It took us three years and two governments to get this changed. I suspect the people really behind stopping this were the heads of MI5 and MI6, the cabinet secretary and other top officials. It will be no different under this bill. »

The four chairmen are also tabling changes to bill to permit policy options to be released to the public; force publication of background information on safety investigations and allow all commercial secrecy to be tested. Mr Wright cited a recent ban by ministers on naming garages which carried out dodgy MoT tests because « it could damage commercial interests ».


Canadian soldiers in mustard gas tests honoured

An official memorial to human « guinea pigs » who were exposed to painful poison gases in little-known experiments by British and Canadian military scientists was unveiled in Canada yesterday.

Art Eggleton, the Canadian defence minister, unveiled the plaque at the chemical warfare establishment at Suffield, Alberta, to remember the 2,000 Canadian armed forces personnel who volunteered for the gas tests. He said: « They put their lives on the line in those early days of research. »

During the second world war, many soldiers were badly burned with mustard gas at Suffield, which was jointly funded by the British and Canadians.

The establishment was headed by Emlyn Llewelyn Davies, a British scientist who had previously been head of experiments at the poison gas establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire. Other scientists from Porton went over to Suffield during the war.

Suffield was set up in 1941 because British scientists wanted the space to try out different chemical weapons without affecting nearby residents. Porton was too small.

Part of the work at Suffield was to develop defences to protect allied troops against chemical and biological weapons. The plaque reads: « In recognition of those who suffered so that their comrades in arms might be spared the horrors of chemical warfare. »

Much of the work carried out is still secret, but declassified documents have revealed that troops were sprayed with mustard gas from planes in a series of experiments on the wide-open prairie.

In one test, in 1942, two privates – recorded as LV Devitte and RH Caldicutt – were among a group of men who stood on the freezing prairie wearing a helmet and ordinary battledress. As they heard a plane droning in the distance, they were told to don their gas masks. After the plane passed, the soldiers dusted one another with decontamination powder and marched three miles back to camp.

According to one report, Private Caldicutt suffered « sharp » burns on his entire back and « between his buttocks, developing into opposing (‘kissing’) blisters in fold ». He also had burns and blisters over his legs and forearms.

Private Devitte also had burns to his body and was sick for a fortnight.

Another 160 troops were sprayed in eight trials deemed to be « very valuable ».

Military units across Canada had to supply a quota of men for the tests. By 1944, Davies wanted to double the number of human trials, but volunteers were in short supply.

Army chiefs circulated a letter telling potential volunteers, who were paid, that they were not « guinea pigs in some weird scheme ». But some say the trials have since caused lasting illnesses. They are now being compensated.

In contrast, British volunteers who took part in gas tests at Porton have complained of being rebuffed and ignored in trying to win compensation from the Ministry of Defence.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that Porton was « very grateful » to the volunteers who helped to develop « world-class protection » against chemical and biological weapons. It has no plans to erect a plaque.


Deadly lure of cold cure

Rob Evans (The guinea pigs, November 8 ) does not explain why hundreds of servicemen took part in the Porton Down experiments. In 1957-8 I was doing national service in the RAF at Upavon, a few miles from Porton Down. I remember a request on the camp noticeboard for volunteers for experiments on the « common cold ». The inducement was two weeks’ free of any duties. Fortunately, I resisted.
RR Jordan 
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

Two problems: what to do with the Millennium Dome and the lamentable state of British tennis. One solution: turn the dome into an all-year, all-weather tennis coaching centre, open to all. Give inner-city kids the chance to become the Wimbledon champions of tomorrow.
Ian Mason
Conwy, Gwynedd

Make it a Green Transport Experience. Visitors could try out the latest in pedal-power, and electric-assist cycles; they could ride in solar-powered vehicles and discover how fuel cells work. On the waterfront they could ride on 30-seater solar-powered pedal-boats.
Jim McGurn

Surely it’s time for the candidates to call it quits and share the four years (Bush court challenge, November 13)? Gore obviously takes the White House for the first year. Bush could then take a gap year staying with foreign relations and practising for the job, like the Prince of Wales.
Max Hunt

Apropos imbalances in your letters page (Letters, November 8 and 10) I note that in the 10 days in question you featured 32 letters from men and only seven from women.
Liz White
Sowerby Bridge, West Yorks


MoD reveals 4,000 in nerve gas tests

Up to 4,000 servicemen have been subjected to nerve agent experiments at the chemical and biological warfare establishment at Porton Down, Ministry of Defence officials disclosed yesterday.The figures – a third more than previously released – relate to servicemen who are among more than 20,000 human guinea pigs to be offered new medical assessments. The move follows an increasing number of complaints by volunteers that their health problems were caused by the experiments, which also involved mustard gas and LSD.Of all the substances tested on humans at Porton, in Wiltshire, where chemical and biological warfare experiments have taken place since 1916 and are continuing today, the nerve agents are potentially the most dangerous.An inquiry by the Wiltshire police force is looking at the way the tests were conducted, and at allegations including those saying that elderly people suffered dementia after germ warfare experiments.Lewis Moonie, the junior defence minister, told the Commons this week that he took « seriously » volunteers’ claims that their ill health was a result of their participation in the trials. The MoD said it would seek independent advice for an epidemiological study although it had seen « no scientific evidence to support the belief ».

Yesterday, MoD officials reiterated that they had seen no scientific or medical evidence linking the health problems of veterans to their participation in nuclear tests or the Gulf war.

Alan Care, the lawyer for the Porton volunteers, said the MoD’s new assessment programme was insufficient. « We will still demand a full independent inquiry, » he said.


Porton ‘guinea pigs’ to sue MoD

Human « guinea pigs » who were subjected to painful chemical warfare experiments are to sue the Ministry of Defence for assaulting them, it was announced yesterday.Lawyers said the MoD had left them no alternative after the ministry rejected proposals to compensate them.Many military personnel claim that they were tricked into taking part in the experiments at the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire, because they were led to believe that they were volunteering for research into the common cold.They say they were not told what they were going to be tested with before the experiments. They believe that Porton Down failed to obtain their informed consent to participate in the poison gas tests and, in effect, assaulted them.The experiments are already being investigated by Wiltshire police.

Yesterday Alan Care of solicitors Russell Jones and Walker, who represents the human guinea pigs, accused the MoD of treating them with contempt. He is to start legal action claiming damages for hundreds of the volunteers.

At a meeting on Monday MoD officials rejected his suggestions for compensating the volunteers.

Around 25,000 military personnel have been experimental subjects at Porton Down since the first world war in what is the longest running programme of chemical warfare tests on humans in the world.

Many were exposed to chemical weapons such as nerve gas, mustard gas, and tear gas. Many have complained that the tests ruined their health for years afterwards.

Under growing pressure, the MoD announced last week that the volunteers could have free medical check-ups, but the volunteers are instead demanding an independent inquiry into their health complaints.


NHS apologises after selling skin for chemical weapons research

An NHS trust has apologised after it admitted selling surplus skin for chemical weapons research without explaining to patients what it would be used for.

Salisbury health care trust said that, until a fortnight ago, it sold surplus skin to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) at Porton Down for an annual fee of £17,000 a year.

The admission will refuel the ethical debate over the appropriate use of human tissues and the extent to which patients’ informed consent should be required for medical research purposes. The trust only stopped the practice in the wake of last month’s Alder Hey children’s hospital organs storage scandal.

The skin, which was removed during breast and abdominal surgery at Salisbury district hospital, was used in « chemical absorption studies » as well as investigations of drug delivery and barrier cream formulation, the trust said.

Patients were required to sign a consent form but this did not fully explain the purpose of the research, the trust admitted.

A statement from the trust said: « The trust now recognises that this did not inform patients of the specific use of the skin and that some individuals may not have wished for the skin to be used by DERA and offers its sincere apologies for this. »

The chemical and biological warfare research centre at Porton Down, Wiltshire, carried out the world’s longest-running programme of chemical warfare experiments on humans between 1940 and 1989.

The consent form that patients were required to sign, which was updated in 1996, read: « I agree/ disagree to any tissue that is removed in the normal course of the operation being used for medical research. »

The trust’s statement said: « The trust thought it appropriate for patients’ consent to be sought for the use of surplus skin in all forms of medical research through a consent form. » It went on: « The trust made a decision to stop providing skin to DERA two weeks ago in the light of issues raised in the Alder Hey report.

« The Department of Health is currently considering the issue of guidance on the appropriate use of human tissue and on gaining informed consent from patients and relatives for its use for medical purposes. »

A spokesman for the trust added: « We are stopping the process until we get further guidance from the Department of Health. »

The trust said the money it received from DERA went back into patient care.

As well being sold to DERA, skin was also used within the trust to investigate wound healing and the preparation of artificial skin, as well as the treatment of burn wounds.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of DERA, confirmed the skin was used in chemical warfare tests. She said the tests were to discover how the skin absorbs chemicals that might be used to attack British servicemen and women.

She added that chemical tests on the skin were also done for the benefit of civilians, for example, to see how the skin would be effected by a spillage of corrosive chemicals used in the home and at work.


Trust sells skin to Porton Down

NHS patients not told of chemical weapons tests.

Chemical weapons were tested on human skin removed from NHS plastic surgery patients without their knowledge, a hospital admitted yesterday.

The skin, which was removed during breast and abdominal surgery at Salisbury district hospital, was used by scientists at the nearby Porton Down chemical warfare facility to test how human tissue was damaged by corrosive chemicals.

It was also used to investigate how drugs could be injected through the skin, and to develop barrier creams to protect against chemical attack.

Consent forms signed by patients said the skin would be used for « medical research » without explaining that it was being used by the defence evaluation and research agency (Dera) which runs the facilities on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

Skin removed during the normal course of surgery was sold to military researchers for an annual fee of £17,000.

The practice began in 1995 and was stopped two weeks ago in the wake of the Alder Hey report.

The hospital said it recognised some patients might object to their skin being used for defence experiments, and offered apologies.

But Salisbury community health council, which represents patients’ interests, said it was surprised to learn of the sale of body parts.

Chief officer Mark Woodcock said: « Patients will understandably be extremely distressed to hear of this news.

« The CHC believes that the trust needs to provide answers to the following questions:

« First, who in the trust in May 1995 authorised the trust to sell body parts to Porton Down?

« Second, why did the trust continue to sell after public awareness of problems at Alder Hey first occurred in November 1999? »

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of Dera, confirmed the skin was used in chemical warfare tests. « Some of the tests were to find out how the skin absorbs chemicals that might be used to attack our armed forces. But they were solely for defence purposes – we stopped developing chemicals for attack at Porton Down in the 1950s.

« Most of the chemical tests done were for the benefit of civilians. They were with corrosive chemicals that are used in the home and work place, to see how the skin would be affected by a spillage. »

A hospital spokesman said it was calling a halt to the process until it obtained further guidance from the Department of Health. The money it received from the Dera went back into patient care. No complaints had been received from patients yesterday.

Left-over skin was also used by the hospital to investigate wound healing and the preparation of artificial skin, as well as the treatment of burn wounds.

The hospital trust said in a statement: « The trust had thought it appropriate for patients’ consent to be sought for the use of surplus skin in all forms of medical research through a consent form.

« The trust now recognises that this did not inform patients of the specific use of the skin and that some individuals may not have wished for the skin to be used by Dera and offers its sincere apologies for this. »

The shadow health secretary, Liam Fox said: « This simply reinforces the need to have rigorous regulations in place to ensure proper informed consent for all patients.

« One of the points I made in the aftermath of Alder Hey was that patients should be clearly informed of the purposes for which organs and tissues would be used. »


Guinea pigs’ grievance

Experiments undertaken at the laboratories of Porton Down have left a legacy of doubt. Now ministers must decide if an inquiry is needed.

Defence ministers are wondering whether to stir the ashes of British military history to find out if service personnel used as human guinea pigs in chemical warfare experiments are now suffering from disease as a result.More than 20,000 were put through test programmes in the laboratories of Porton Down, Wiltshire between 1916 and the present day. Indeed, the defence establishment conducted the world’s longest programme of chemical warfare experiments on humans.Poisons, including nerve gas and mustard gas, chemical weapons and protective drugs were tested on humans in myriad, often horrific, experiments. A full study would have to establish whether each type of chemical caused later ill-health.But Porton’s legacy is about more than a scientific inquiry. This issue is also about people’s confidence in the ability of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to deal fairly with the medical complaints of contemporary military personnel. The MoD has been criticised by former soldiers, sailors and air crew who believe that their ill-health has been caused during their period of service.They have waged long and often bitter campaigns against officialdom which, many of them feel, has ignored their claim for compensation and apology. In the 1980s, former servicemen claimed that they had developed cancers and other diseases as a result of exposure to radiation from nuclear weapon tests abroad. In the early 90s, veterans of the Gulf war against Iraq began to experience mysterious illnesses. At first, the MoD denied that the war had anything to do with their diseases. This stonewalling bred accusations of cover-up as well as public cynicism. Labour in 1997 seemed to learn the lesson and promised a new beginning on the issue of Gulf war syndrome. Labour ministers pledged to be more open and give medical help quickly to veterans.

Recently, pressure has been building on another front. More and more of those tested at Porton have been coming forward to complain. Around 250 joined the Porton Down veterans’ support group. Their lawyer is now preparing a case against the MoD.

And for the past 18 months, Wiltshire police have been investigating the Porton experiments in a criminal inquiry. They have been looking at allegations that some volunteers were duped into undergoing gas tests by being told they were helping to find a cure for the common cold. The detectives have also been looking at the death of Ronald Maddison, a 20-year-old airman, in a 1953 nerve gas experiment. Following moves by the police, his inquest could soon be re-opened – a remarkable development for a death which occurred nearly 50 years ago.

Defence ministers were forced to consider a health study because of this Wiltshire police inquiry. In November, a senior MoD official wrote and asked the Medical Research Council (MRC) for « urgent assistance and advice on establishing the feasibility of an epidemiological study into the health of service volunteers who attended Porton Down for various trials over a great many years.

« The background to this suggestion is a continuing inquiry by the Wiltshire police into the way in which some of these trials were conducted. » The civil servant noted Wiltshire police had uncovered evidence which they believed showed that Porton volunteers were suffering « unusual ill-health » because of their attendance at Porton Down and participation in the trials programme. The MoD appears to accept the nub of the question: « Whilst we are sceptical about police claims, equally there is insufficient scientific evidence on which they could be either confirmed or refuted.

« Our ministers have therefore decided that work should be set in hand to establish whether there is any basis to suggestions that Porton volunteers have encountered premature mortality or unusual ill-health related to their exposures. We believe that a soundly based epidemiological study will be the only way to establish these facts. »

The official line is that a study of whether Porton volunteers have died prematurely or suffered cancer is feasible but that it would be much more difficult to look generally at Porton volunteers’ health. « Experience from our Gulf war veterans epidemiological projects suggests that very high numbers of people serving in the armed forces many decades ago will be lost to follow up.

« Questions of ethics, consent on the part of the individual to participate in a study, follow up of NHS records, or the alternative of a questionnaire-based study, with the additional uncertainties of response rate, suggest to us that this may not be a worthwhile exercise. » But that is to side-step the issue of whether Porton has caused illness which while not life-threatening may have ruined former volunteers’ quality of life.

Once they have received the MRC’s advice, ministers will decide whether to go ahead with the study. The MoD realises that unless former guinea pigs are seen to be treated in the fairest way possible their sense of grievance may grow.

The Porton experiments happened a long time before the Blair government came to power, so it is surely in ministers’ own interest to get the credit for acting to clear up an apparent injustice from the past.

Gassed – British Chemical Warfare Experiments On Humans At Porton Down, by Rob Evans, will be published in paperback by Stratus in March.




Porton Down in illegal human tests, say police

Detectives have for the first time declared that they have uncovered « strong » evidence that servicemen were duped into taking part in chemical warfare experiments when they believed they had volunteered to help find a cure for the common cold.They have also stated that military scientists illegally tested noxious chemicals on a former airman, Gordon Bell, who triggered the investigation.Their declaration contradicts the Ministry of Defence and increases the pressure on the government to admit the long-standing claims of the human « guinea pigs » and pay them compensation. It is now more likely that military scientists will be prosecuted for poisoning human « guinea pigs » without their consent.Yesterday, police confirmed that they will send papers relating to the case to the crown prosecution service, probably later this year.A squad of Wiltshire officers has been conducting a huge criminal investigation for the past two years into the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down near Salisbury.

The detectives have built up a sizeable portfolio of servicemen who allege that they were tricked into taking part in the Porton trials during the 1950s and 1960s.

Thousands of military personnel were exposed to nerve gas, mustard gas and other chemicals in chambers in what is the longest-running programme of chemical warfare trials on humans in the world. Many suffer illnesses which they believe have been caused by the tests.

Now Wiltshire detectives have written to Mr Bell, to say that they have discovered « strong » evidence to corroborate his allegations and that it was « apparent that a criminal offence of administering a noxious substance, contrary to section 24 of the Offices of the Person Act 1861, had been committed » against him by Porton scientists.

Mr Bell maintains that as a young RAF national serviceman, he volunteered three times between 1959 and 1961 after seeing a notice at his base, RAF Aird Uig in Scotland, asking for volunteers for common cold research at an unspecified military establishment.

But he was livid when he later discovered that he had been used as an experimental subject in a range of trials at Porton. In one trial, he was told to stand in front of acrid gas, but could not bear it for even a minute.

A chemical in another test made him weak at the knees and nauseated. He later developed skin problems.

Wiltshire detectives tracked down the highest ranking officer at his base, another senior officer, and all the servicemen who went with Mr Bell on one occasion to Porton.

The police state in the letter that all of them clearly support Mr Bell’s claim of a « common cold notice ».

Yesterday, a jubilant Mr Bell said: « The government has been trying to discredit us, now it has been verified that what we have been saying is the truth ».

The inquest on a 20-year-old airman who died during a nerve gas experiment in 1953 is likely to be re-opened soon. The MoD has also agreed to fund a large-scale, independent study into the medical illnesses of the « guinea pigs ».

Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell who has championed the veterans, called on the MoD to « take responsibility for their actions and compensate them properly ».

Related articles
26.02.2001: Guinea pigs’ grievance
10.02.2001: Trust sells skin to Porton Down
20.04.2001: Gas masks put Britain’s dogs of war off the scent

Useful links
Porton Down volunteers page
Gulf Veterans’ Illnesses Unit – Ministry of Defence
Wiltshire police


Porton papers reveal biological danger for Blair

Secret experiments highlighted how an anthrax attack by terrorist saboteurs could kill many in the upper echelons of the British government, documents obtained by the Guardian have revealed.The experiments by military scientists in Whitehall clearly demonstrated that anthrax could easily infect many ministers and officials in key government buildings, including the residence of the prime minister in Downing Street.The scientists concluded that the « potential for clandestine biological warfare attacks is considerable ».The threat of bioterrorism has grown in the minds of much of the public since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon a month ago. The government is highly aware that Britain could be the next target for terrorists, who could unleash lethal germs on the country.Emergency plans to cope with such a disaster have drawn on the results of experiments conducted by scientists from the biological and chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

In one set of trials, the scientists released non-lethal microorganisms which simulated the path of an anthrax cloud in tunnels underneath central London. In one experiment, the organisms were sprayed in a section of the tunnels under Whitehall from Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. The fake anthrax penetrated through huge doors into buildings at the heart of government. « This showed ex tensive contamination of many Whitehall buildings, » the scientists wrote. It is likely that the cloud would have infiltrated 10 Downing Street during the trials in 1955.

Experiments were also conducted on trains and the London Underground in the 1950s and 1960s as the government feared that the Russians could inflict biological attacks on Britain as part of an overall assault. « The trials demonstrated the clear vulnerability of these several locations to clandestine attack, » warned Porton in an internal account of the experiments written in 1999.

Although the trials were conducted during the cold war, the results plainly show the danger of a bioterrorist attack.

In July 1963, the scientists dropped a carton containing an anthrax simulant out of a London Underground train in south London. The spores burst out of the carton and were soon found as far as 10 miles up the Northern Line at Camden Town station in north London. The insides of trains were badly contaminated.

Earlier, the Porton scientists carried out trials on British Railways trains between Exeter and Salisbury in 1953 and 1954. The report of the trial noted that « all types of transport are now generally recognised as being likely to be one of the most important targets for special operations in a war of the future ».

Porton’s account of the trials was released to the Guardian under the open government code.


Drugged and duped

Eric Gow was told he was helping to find a cure for the common cold. In fact he was being dosed with LSD in chemical warfare trials. Fifty years on, he and other guinea pigs want to know the truth behind the secret experiments. By Rob Evans.

Eric Gow had a vivid experience when he was aged 19, something that he will never forget. He found that he could not add up three numbers. The radiator in the room started to go in and out « like a squeezebox », shoe-marks on the floor spun around « like a catherine wheel firework ». In the evening, he was still tripping – he saw brightly coloured images in the phonebooth as he was calling for a taxi.

Eric was not some hippie in search of a magical higher consciousness. He was a serving member of Britain’s armed forces in a top-secret military laboratory, who had been ordered to drink a colourless liquid by scientists. He and other young men were being used as human guinea pigs in highly classified experiments directed, it seems, by Britain’s spies.

According to new evidence uncovered by the Guardian, MI5 and MI6 subjected the men to LSD without telling them what they were doing. The men say they were duped – allegations being investigated by police as part of a two-year inquiry into the use of humans in chemical warfare trials.

In the depths of the cold war British intelligence, in collaboration with the CIA, were keen to find out if LSD could be used as a truth drug during interrogations. But even today the guinea pigs are finding it difficult to get the government to admit these psychedelic experiments took place.

Gow, who has been a magistrate for 25 years, is one of the most energetic campaigners for the truth. In 1954 he was a teenage Royal Navy radio-operator who volunteered to take part in what he was told was research to find a cure for the common cold. Instead he ended up at the chemical warfare research establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire. For over 80 years, Porton has conducted tests on more than 20,000 members of the armed forces, to develop chemical weapons and protection against poison gas. In this most clandestine of establishments, it would be easy for government officials to siphon off some of the men from its pool of human guinea pigs and lend them to MI5 and MI6 for their experiments.

Even now Gow is angry that the scientists tested their drugs on young servicemen with little regard for their safety. « To use your own as guinea pigs and put them in any harm’s way at all is not really on, is it? »

Another 19-year-old, airman Don Webb, says he was told in 1953 that he was taking part in common cold research, believing it was a « cushy number » and « a week’s pay for nothing ». Instead, he was given LSD several times over a week in what he says was a nightmarish, horrific experience. Scientists told him to « take this and tell us what happens. I hallucinated for a hell of a long time. » He remembers « walls melting, cracks appearing in people’s faces, you could see their skulls, eyes would run down cheeks, Salvador Dali-type faces, all in broad daylight. A flower would turn into a slug. You could see things growing on you. »

Webb has grown angry as he has grown older. He suffered flashbacks for 10 years, but was not monitored by government officials in any way. He says it was « absolutely reckless and quite cavalier » to administer hallucinogens to servicemen who didn’t know what was happening to them.

The impetus for the experiments appears to have come from a paranoid CIA which feared the Russians had a wonder drug that could turn people into robotic super-soldiers. The Americans responded in 1950 by launching a huge and now infamous research programme into ways of controlling human behaviour. They were especially interested in LSD and were alarmed by reports that the Russians were attempting to buy up all the LSD in the world. In a desperate response, the CIA covertly funded experiments on people, without their knowledge, at universities and research institutions, even prisons.

CIA documents show that in 1951, British intelligence officials agreed to co-operate with the agency in its research. Many details of the CIA experiments were exposed in the 1970s, but the British end of this cooperation remained hidden, thanks to the culture of secrecy in this country. The British government admits that 136 servicemen were tested with LSD at Porton between 1961 and 1968, for a military programme that had nothing to do with the intelligence services. But it has until recently refused to admit there were any LSD tests on humans before that.

The clearest evidence comes from Peter Wright, the MI5 officer who won a battle against the Thatcher government to publish his memoirs, Spycatcher. Wright, also a scientist for MI5, revealed: « The whole area of chemical research was an active field in the 1950s. I was co-operating with MI6 in a joint programme to investigate how far the hallucinatory drug LSD could be used in interrogations, and extensive trials took place at Porton. I even volunteered as a guinea pig on one occasion. »

Buried deep in declassified official papers are fragments which corroborate Wright’s statement. One document shows that in 1964, senior army officers struggling to suppress rebellions in Britain’s colonies wanted to know if there were any truth drugs they could use on captured insurgents. A Whitehall mandarin scribbled that Porton had investigated this in the past, adding: « Position v. doubtful – not a worthwhile project. MI5 are in possession of facts. »

Another document reveals that in 1965, Dr Bill Ladell, then in charge of human experiments at Porton, had commented that « previous trials on LSD had been carried out at Porton many years before, but these had been tentative and inadequately controlled ». And Ladell would know – he « handled all MI5 and MI6 work » at Porton, according to Wright.

The government insists it cannot discuss any aspect of MI5 and MI6 operations, even those 50 years ago. So many questions about LSD research remain unanswered: how long did the experiments go on for? How many human guinea pigs were used? What doses were given? And what were the results of the trials?

Some ground was conceded by the government in January, after Wiltshire detectives dug up new information. Junior defence minister Lewis Moonie was compelled to admit to Gow that « there was, in fact, research being carried out at Porton Down involving LSD, as early as 1953″. But he added that although Gow’s experience « bears all the hallmarks of an LSD trial », there were no surviving documents proving that he had actually been given LSD.

In the US, the CIA’s quest to control human behaviour came to nothing, but there was a price for this failure. Congressional inquiries revealed that the CIA had grossly violated the rights of the unwitting human guinea pigs. The chances of the British government ever coming clean about their experiments seem slim.





Porton Down claims likely to be aired

Former servicemen who claim they suffered from illegal chemical weapons trials at the Porton Down research laboratory 50 years ago may get their complaints aired in a public court for the first time.

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, is likely to decide this week that he will support the reopening of the inquest into Ronald Maddison, who died after a drop of the deadly nerve agent sarin was dropped on to cloth on his forearm in 1953.

The original inquest, at which a verdict of death by misadventure was recorded, was held in camera on the grounds of security.

Last year the Wiltshire coroner, David Masters, sought the attorney general’s permission to go to the high court in an attempt to have the verdict quashed and hold a new hearing.

Lord Goldsmith’s imminent decision follows moves last week by lawyers acting for the Maddison family to force him to act through a judicial review. The family are seeking a verdict of unlawful killing.

The move will be the culmination of a three-year investigation by Wiltshire police into hundreds of allegations that during the 1950s and 1960s servicemen were duped into being guinea pigs for the tests, believing they were helping to find a cold cure. Of the thousands of volunteers, 300 claim that disabilities, including skin and eye disorders, breathing problems and liver complaints, were caused by the tests.

Three former scientists from Porton Down may face criminal charges. A police file recommending trials has been sent to the director of public prosecutions, David Calvert Smith QC, although some of the ex-servicemen believe action should be taken against more senior officials at the Ministry of Defence.

Porton Down has admitted that since 1945, at least 30,000 volunteers were involved in tests using sarin, mustard gas, CS gas, and hallucinogens.

The possibility of criminal charges first emerged last August when a letter to one of the victims, Gordon Bell, 63, from a senior Wiltshire policemen was leaked.

It said: « On the face of the allegation you have made, it is apparent that a criminal offence of administering a noxious substance contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act, has been committed. »

The MoD has said it does not accept volunteers were misled.


Millions were in germ war tests

Much of Britain was exposed to bacteria sprayed in secret trials.

The Ministry of Defence turned large parts of the country into a giant laboratory to conduct a series of secret germ warfare tests on the public.

A government report just released provides for the first time a comprehensive official history of Britain’s biological weapons trials between 1940 and 1979.

Many of these tests involved releasing potentially dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms over vast swaths of the population without the public being told.

While details of some secret trials have emerged in recent years, the 60-page report reveals new information about more than 100 covert experiments.

The report reveals that military personnel were briefed to tell any ‘inquisitive inquirer’ the trials were part of research projects into weather and air pollution.

The tests, carried out by government scientists at Porton Down, were designed to help the MoD assess Britain’s vulnerability if the Russians were to have released clouds of deadly germs over the country.

In most cases, the trials did not use biological weapons but alternatives which scientists believed would mimic germ warfare and which the MoD claimed were harmless. But families in certain areas of the country who have children with birth defects are demanding a public inquiry.

One chapter of the report, ‘The Fluorescent Particle Trials’, reveals how between 1955 and 1963 planes flew from north-east England to the tip of Cornwall along the south and west coasts, dropping huge amounts of zinc cadmium sulphide on the population. The chemical drifted miles inland, its fluorescence allowing the spread to be monitored. In another trial using zinc cadmium sulphide, a generator was towed along a road near Frome in Somerset where it spewed the chemical for an hour.

While the Government has insisted the chemical is safe, cadmium is recognised as a cause of lung cancer and during the Second World War was considered by the Allies as a chemical weapon.

In another chapter, ‘Large Area Coverage Trials’, the MoD describes how between 1961 and 1968 more than a million people along the south coast of England, from Torquay to the New Forest, were exposed to bacteria including e.coli and bacillus globigii , which mimics anthrax. These releases came from a military ship, the Icewhale, anchored off the Dorset coast, which sprayed the micro-organisms in a five to 10-mile radius.

The report also reveals details of the DICE trials in south Dorset between 1971 and 1975. These involved US and UK military scientists spraying into the air massive quantities of serratia marcescens bacteria, with an anthrax simulant and phenol.

Similar bacteria were released in ‘The Sabotage Trials’ between 1952 and 1964. These were tests to determine the vulnerability of large government buildings and public transport to attack. In 1956 bacteria were released on the London Underground at lunchtime along the Northern Line between Colliers Wood and Tooting Broadway. The results show that the organism dispersed about 10 miles. Similar tests were conducted in tunnels running under government buildings in Whitehall.

Experiments conducted between 1964 and 1973 involved attaching germs to the threads of spiders’ webs in boxes to test how the germs would survive in different environments. These tests were carried out in a dozen locations across the country, including London’s West End, Southampton and Swindon. The report also gives details of more than a dozen smaller field trials between 1968 and 1977.

In recent years, the MoD has commissioned two scientists to review the safety of these tests. Both reported that there was no risk to public health, although one suggested the elderly or people suffering from breathing illnesses may have been seriously harmed if they inhaled sufficient quantities of micro-organisms.

However, some families in areas which bore the brunt of the secret tests are convinced the experiments have led to their children suffering birth defects, physical handicaps and learning difficulties.

David Orman, an army officer from Bournemouth, is demanding a public inquiry. His wife, Janette, was born in East Lulworth in Dorset, close to where many of the trials took place. She had a miscarriage, then gave birth to a son with cerebral palsy. Janette’s three sisters, also born in the village while the tests were being carried out, have also given birth to children with unexplained problems, as have a number of their neighbours.

The local health authority has denied there is a cluster, but Orman believes otherwise. He said: ‘I am convinced something terrible has happened. The village was a close-knit community and to have so many birth defects over such a short space of time has to be more than coincidence.’

Successive governments have tried to keep details of the germ warfare tests secret. While reports of a number of the trials have emerged over the years through the Public Records Office, this latest MoD document – which was released to Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker – gives the fullest official version of the biological warfare trials yet.

Baker said: ‘I welcome the fact that the Government has finally released this information, but question why it has taken so long. It is unacceptable that the public were treated as guinea pigs without their knowledge, and I want to be sure that the Ministry of Defence’s claims that these chemicals and bacteria used were safe is true.’

The MoD report traces the history of the UK’s research into germ warfare since the Second World War when Porton Down produced five million cattle cakes filled with deadly anthrax spores which would have been dropped in Germany to kill their livestock. It also gives details of the infamous anthrax experiments on Gruinard on the Scottish coast which left the island so contaminated it could not be inhabited until the late 1980s.

The report also confirms the use of anthrax and other deadly germs on tests aboard ships in the Caribbean and off the Scottish coast during the 1950s. The document states: ‘Tacit approval for simulant trials where the public might be exposed was strongly influenced by defence security considerations aimed obviously at restricting public knowledge. An important corollary to this was the need to avoid public alarm and disquiet about the vulnerability of the civil population to BW [biological warfare] attack.’

Sue Ellison, spokeswoman for Porton Down, said: ‘Independent reports by eminent scientists have shown there was no danger to public health from these releases which were carried out to protect the public.

‘The results from these trials_ will save lives, should the country or our forces face an attack by chemical and biological weapons.’

Asked whether such tests are still being carried out, she said: ‘It is not our policy to discuss ongoing research.’



New inquest ordered into Porton Down death

  • Staff and agencies - guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 November 2002 15.20 GMT
    source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/nov/18/military?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
The high court today ordered a fresh inquest into the death of a young serviceman killed nearly 50 years ago during nerve gas tests at Porton Down research centre.The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, sitting with another judge in London, took the « exceptional » course of quashing the original misadventure verdict on Leading Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison of Swindon, Wiltshire, and ordering a new hearing.Lord Woolf said he was satisfied that « justice requires that these matters are properly investigated » at a fresh inquest. The original inquest was held in private.Today’s hearing follows years of campaigning by former servicemen who claim that some of their colleagues died after being exposed to nerve agents in secret tests at Porton Down, near Salisbury.The application for a new inquest was brought by a Wiltshire coroner, David Masters.Wiltshire detectives began investigating Maddison’s death in 1999 alongside claims that thousands of young servicemen had been used as guinea pigs to test chemical weapons at Porton Down. The servicemen claim they were given some money and extra leave to participate in what they were told were tests to find a cure for the common cold.In 2001, Wiltshire detectives said they had « strong » evidence to support the servicemen’s claims.Maddison was only 20 years old on May 6, 1953, when Porton Down officials administered 200mg of Sarin – the nerve agent used in a deadly Tokyo underground attack in 1995 – in liquid form. His death was described in a report obtained by the Guardian: »At 10:50 hours respiration deteriorated and vigorous artificial respiration was instituted. At 11:00 hours his colour turned ashen grey and there was incontinence of faeces. The patient became cyanosed and the pulse at the wrist could not be felt. »

The application before Lord Woolf and Mrs Justice Hallett was not opposed by the Ministry of Defence.



Porton Down tests ‘not harmful’

An official study yesterday dismissed allegations that government scientists damaged the health of human « guinea pigs » exposed to chemical weapons in experiments.Veterans criticised the study as another attempt by the Ministry of Defence to bury their concerns and block claims for compensation.Doctors studied the health of 111 men subjected to chemical weapons in gas chambers at the Porton Down research establishment during the cold war, mainly in the 1950s.The men, with an average age of 62, had come forward as they were worried their health had been harmed by weapons including nerve gas, mustard gas and teargas. They have been examined by doctors at St Thomas’ hospital, London, over the past two years.

The study, led by Professor Harry Lee, concluded there was no correlation between the « low doses » of chemical weapons tested on the veterans and the health problems which they later suffered.

The doctors said some had developed the expected symptoms during the experiments « but all left Porton Down well ».

Alan Care, a lawyer representing around 400 Porton Down veterans, said the study was a « half-baked idea » and the veterans had been sceptical of it for some time.

More than 20,000 servicemen have taken part in Porton Down experiments in the past 80 years. Many have said they were duped into participating.


Inquest into Porton Down sarin death reopen

  •  - The Guardian, Monday 3 May 2004 01.34 BST
  • source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/may/03/military.immigrationpolicy?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
Decades of official silence will be blown away this week when an inquest reopens into the horrific death of an airman in a clandestine government establishment more than 50 years ago.Ronald Maddison, 20, died in 1953 after scientists at the Porton Down chemical warfare facility dripped liquid nerve gas on to his arm in an experiment.The cause and circumstances of his death were quickly concealed, and have largely remained hidden ever since. The first inquest, in 1953, was held in secret and found that he died through misadventure.That verdict will now be re-examined as the new inquest hears evidence suppressed at the original one.Scheduled to last for eight weeks at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, it will examine whether Porton scientists acted recklessly and were negligent.It will look at how another man, John Kelly, nearly died 10 days before Maddison, a fact kept from the original hearing. He too had had liquid nerve gas dripped on his arm. He stopped breathing but was revived.Documents uncovered by the Guardian in the national archives show that scientists had estimated in 1949 and 1950 that the amount of sarin nerve gas administered to Maddison « on the bare skin would present a serious hazard, and possibly prove fatal ». Officially the government has maintained Maddison died because of a « personal idiosyncrasy », possibly because he was unusually sensitive to nerve gas.

The inquest follows a four-year investigation by Wiltshire police. The Crown Prosecution Service decided last summer that no scientists would be prosecuted for their involvement in the experiments.

The reopening of an inquest after so long is extremely rare and only came about after years of pressure from Maddison’s family and supporters.

Quashing the original misadventure verdict and granting the new inquest two years ago, the lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, ruled that it was an « exceptional » case.

He said the Maddison family « had been kept in total ignorance of the true situation in relation to the death ».

If the hearing decides on a verdict of unlawful killing, the Maddisons are expected to press the MoD for compensation and an apology.

More than 20,000 service personnel have taken part in experiments at Porton Down over the past 80 years.


Inquest into 1953 Porton Down death re-opens

  • Press Association - guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 5 May 2004 17.11 BST
  • source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/may/05/military?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
An inquest into the death of a young RAF man was reopened today almost 51 years after he died while taking part in secret government chemical weapons tests.The investigation into what happened to Ronald Maddison, 20, an airman, in May 1953 was being seen as a test case for those who believe he and many others were duped into taking part in dangerous trials. Maddison died after being exposed to nerve gas at Porton Down, the biological and chemical weapons research base on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.The inquest could result in civil action against the government by others claiming to be affected by the tests, lawyers have said.The coroner for Swindon and Wiltshire, David Masters, said the inquest would be unprecedented: « No coroner or jury has been required before this day to investigate a death that took place as long ago as this one. »The hearing in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, is expected to last eight weeks and was attended today by Lillias Craik, 70, Maddison’s sister, and members of the Porton Down Veterans Support Group.

Opening the hearing, Mr Masters told the jury: « It will be necessary for us all to take a journey back to the early 1950s. As a result, you will need to have an understanding of the attitudes and relationships which existed in this country at that time. Some of you may remember those years, some of you obviously will not. »

The original, brief inquest into the death of Maddison, from Swindon, Wiltshire, was held behind closed doors on the orders of the Home Office and swiftly recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

But after years of campaigning by his family, now of County Durham, the secretive report into how and why he died is at last to be re-examined.

The coroner said he needed to paint a picture of 1953, when Maddison died. He described a post-second world war world, divided into east and west by the cold war, of hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific and in Russia, and of the death of Joseph Stalin.

He talked of the end of the Korean War, the Queen’s Coronation, Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile and of Saturday May 2, the day of the « Stanley Matthews » FA Cup final, Blackpool v Bolton Wanderers.

« On that day, we will hear, leading aircraftman Maddison travelled to the country by train, to a small station halt near Salisbury, and near to an establishment called Porton Down. The chemical experimental establishment is situated there.

« On the following Wednesday, May 6, he joined a number of other service colleagues who took part in experimental trials which involved exposure to Sarin nerve gas. You will hear that, as a result, he died. He was 20. »

Maddison’s family claim he was tricked into participating in the tests in the belief they were part of a quest to find a cure for the common cold. Other servicemen and women claim they were similarly duped, and in 1999 the case prompted the setting up of a police investigation, Operation Antler.

That £2m, four-year inquiry by Wiltshire police examined the cases of some 700 people who took part in tests at the base between 1939 and 1989. Many claimed they had suffered serious long-term health problems as a result.

Last year the police and crown prosecution service announced no criminal charges would be brought against those responsible for the experiments.

But the lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, had months earlier ordered the inquest into Maddison’s death be reopened.


The past Porton Down can’t hide

As an inquest reopens into the death of a young airman 51 years ago, Rob Evans reveals the secrets of Britain’s nerve gas tests

  •  - The Guardian, Thursday 6 May 2004 18.34 BST
  • source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/may/06/science.research?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

Tucked away in 7,000 acres of beautiful Wiltshire countryside lies one of Britain’s most infamous scientific establishments. Porton Down, founded in 1916, is the oldest chemical warfare research installation in the world. The tight secrecy which has surrounded the establishment for decades has fed the growth of all sorts of myths and rumours about its experiments. One Whitehall official once remarked that Porton had an image of « a sinister and nefarious establishment ».

The Porton experiments on humans have attracted a good deal of criticism. It is, for example, alleged that the human « guinea pigs’ – drawn from the armed forces and supposedly all volunteers – were duped into taking part in the tests. There are still concerns that the tests have damaged the long-term health of the human subjects.

This week, its work has been thrown into the spotlight once again: an inquest was reopened into the death, in May 1953, of a young airman, Ronald Maddison. He died after liquid nerve gas was dripped on to his arm by Porton scientists in an experiment. The original inquest decided that his death was accidental, but this new inquest will examine fresh evidence and decide if the verdict should stand.

But what were the scientists at Porton doing? Years after the experiments ended, did they achieve anything of scientific value? The Guardian has pieced together a comprehensive and surprising picture of the nerve gas experiments, drawn from reports of the tests uncovered at the Public Record Office and new documents obtained under the « open government » code.

From a purely scientific point of view, they produced a huge amount of data about the effects of nerve gas on the human body. This data in turn has enabled Porton to develop some of the most sophisticated defences in the world to protect Britain’s armed forces from chemical attack. Porton acknowledges that the human experiments have made a « vital contribution » to this protection. The data also helped Britain to develop its own arsenal of nerve gas before such plans were finally shelved in the late 1960s.

From 1945 to 1989, Porton exposed more than 3,400 human « guinea pigs » to nerve gas. It seems probable that Porton has tested more human subjects with nerve gas, for the longest period of time, than any other scientific establishment in the world. Two other nations have admitted testing nerve gas on humans: the American military exposed about 1,100 soldiers between 1945 and 1975, and Canada tested a small number before 1968. Other countries, including France, the old Soviet Union and Iraq, are also likely to have exposed humans to nerve gas, but very little is known about their tests.

The group of chemicals known as nerve gases were first developed as weapons by the Nazis before and during the second world war. German scientists discovered the potency of these organophosphorous compounds which, in tiny quantities, disrupt a key element of the nervous system.

Human muscles contract when a chemical, acetylcholine, is released from the nerve endings. Muscles do not exist in a permanent form of contraction because acetylecholine is destroyed in a split second by an enzyme (acetylcholinesterase), thus allowing the muscle to relax again. Nerve gases inactivate this important enzyme, and since it is prevented from working, the muscle goes into a state of spasm from which it cannot be relaxed. Victims die because the most important muscles in the body – those of the heart and the rib cage, which control the emptying and filling of the lungs – are paralysed. They suffocate swiftly in a horrifying death.

The nerve gases are more deadly than any other chemical weapon, but during the second world war, only the Germans had spotted their full potential and produced an arsenal of the munitions. As one Porton official has commented, the British and their allies were « caught with our pants down ».

As the Third Reich was collapsing in April 1945, the British discovered stocks of the gas in Germany. Within two weeks, Porton had tested the new gas on batches of human subjects, even though they did not know what the unknown compound was or how it harmed the body.

The discovery of the new weapons instantly transformed Porton, as all its previous work on other chemicals, such as mustard gas, was downgraded. Porton scientists quickly had to find out how nerve gases attacked the human body.

One of the early tests established just how little one of the nerve gases, sarin, was needed to trigger a reaction in humans. Fifty-six men were sent into gas chambers and exposed to « low concentrations » of gas. The scientists watching recorded that after 20 minutes, the men started to suffer miosis (constriction of the pupil), one of the first symptoms of nerve gas poisoning. Their vision was blurred and darkened, in some cases for up to five days.

Fourteen men were exposed to repeated doses of sarin, some when they were still experiencing the effects of the previous poisoning. Porton scientists observed: « Repeated exposures produced, after the third or fourth occasion, an aggravation of effects … »

By 1950, Porton had begun to test « considerable higher doses » of sarin on 133 men, and catalogued the severity of symptoms, such as runny noses, headaches, vomiting and eye pain.

Within two years, Porton had moved on to look at other aspects. In one study, in 1952, it wanted to see how sarin would impair the mental performance and intellectual ability of humans.

Twenty airmen were exposed to sarin and then measured to see how they performed in intelligence and aptitude tests. From this experiment, Porton inferred that after exposure, the men’s visual co-ordination was worse, but their reasoning and intellectual capability had not deteriorated. Another 12 men were exposed to stronger doses of sarin – Porton found that the men appeared « behaviourally much less disturbed than the increased concentration (of sarin) would lead one to expect ».

Maddison died during what is probably Porton’s most controversial experiment. It will be at the heart of the inquest over the coming weeks. He was one of 396 men who took part in a large experiment whose aim was to « determine the dosage of [three nerve gases] which when applied to the clothed or bare skin of men would cause incapacitation or death ».

The scientists were aiming to expose the men to sub-lethal quantities of the nerve gases and then measure how much each of the quantities was reducing the amount of cholinesterase enzymes in the body. They were trying to establish a ratio between the two figures and then extrapolate them to arrive at the lethal dose for humans. But they discovered that this theory was flawed, as there is no direct correlation.

After Maddison’s death, Porton was limited in the amount of nerve gas it could test on humans, but the trials continued.

About 300 soldiers in the mid-1950s were used to see how well they could conduct military operations after they had been attacked with nerve gas. They were gassed with relatively low levels and then sent on a mock exercise. The men performed well in daylight, but less so at night. The biggest hindrance was that they could not see very well, but the scientists believed that a « determined infantryman » could still fight on after being exposed to low amounts of nerve gas.

They speculated that during the day, « a unit of intact morale » could cope, but at night, the men would have been vulnerable because they would have been prone to panic, especially since their sight was being hampered.

The psychological effects of nerve gas were a continuing focus of experiments in the 1950s. In one set of trials, the men underwent a series of intelligence and aptitude tests after being gassed. Porton found that the men were distinctly unhappy and depressed afterwards, emotions that were combined with a « feeling of reduced mental alertness and a tendency to social withdrawal ».

In the late 1950s, Porton studied the effect of nerve gas on particular parts of the body. One study concluded that nerve gas did not impair hearing; this might have been a problem if troops could not, for instance, hear instructions or orders in the heat of the battle after a gas attack. Another looked at whether nerve gas hindered the circulation of blood through the veins in the leg; it didn’t. Another examined the impact of nerve gas on the heart, as the scientists wanted to see if particular muscles between the ribs were responsible for one of the usual nerve gas symptoms – a « tightness in the chest ».

In the later years of the programme, Porton seems to have focused on assessing the effects of nerve gas on the eyes, a crucial question because, for instance, pilots faced with reading complicated rows of instruments could be put out of action with a slightest amount of exposure to the gas.

The nerve gas programme was substantial at Porton because human testing has been an integral part of the establishment since it was founded. During the past 80 years, some 25,000 humans have been subjected to Porton’s experiments, many in trials with other chemical weapons such as mustard gas and tear gas. Others were used simply to test defensive equipment without being exposed to chemicals.

Today, Porton is devoted totally to devising defensive measures against gas attacks. But the conduct and ethical standards of tests in the past will be under unprecedented scrutiny in the inquest over the coming weeks.

Porton Down links
· www.portonveterans.8m.com Porton Down veterans support group

· Medical Research Council project

·Chemical and Biological Defence at Porton Down 1916-2000, G B Carter, Stationery Office, £16.99

·Rob Evans is the author of Gassed: British chemical warfare experiments on humans at Porton Down (House of Stratus, 2000, £20)


Inquest hears of Porton gas test

  • Press Association - The Guardian, Thursday 3 June 2004 02.41 BST
  • source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/jun/03/military?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
A former RAF man who took part in a secret nerve gas test said yesterday that a colleague who fell ill during it did not believe he was taking part in research to find a cure for the common cold.

Henry Newman was, with Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison, among six servicemen who had volunteered to take place in trials at the government chemical research facility at Porton Down, Wiltshire, in May 1953.

He made the comments at the second inquest into Maddison’s death despite claims to the contrary by other witnesses.

Wiltshire coroner David Masters asked Mr Newman, of Holbeach, Lincolnshire: « Do you consider that Ronald Maddison thought that he was going to Porton Down to participate in common cold research? »

He replied: « I don’t think he did. I didn’t, and I don’t think Ronald did either. »

The pair were both based at RAF Ballykelly in Northern Ireland when they signed up for the trial.

Mr Newman also told the inquest at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, that he did not remember giving evidence to the original inquest into the death, despite the existence of documents which claim he did.

He said he was sitting opposite Maddison, 20, during the experiment and, after what was later revealed to be liquid sarin was dropped on material on their forearms by a technician, they started playing draughts. Five minutes into the test, Maddison was helped out of the chamber, Mr Newman said.

But Mr Masters told Mr Newman that his evidence contradicted that of a technician, who claimed that LAC Maddison told him he was feeling « pretty queer » after 23 minutes.

Later, Mr Newman said he was told Maddison had died but was given no explanation and told not to discuss it.

The re-investigation into what happened to Maddison is being seen as a test case by those who believe he and others were duped into taking part in the trials. The inquest continues.






Government ‘breached ex-soldier’s human rights’

  • Press Association - guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 20 October 2004 16.00 BST
    source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/oct/20/military.immigrationpolicy?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
The government was today accused of breaching the human rights of a former soldier who was exposed to mustard gas and nerve agent experiments at the Porton Down military base.Thomas Roche, from Lancashire, claims the chemical and biological weapons tests, carried out more than 40 years ago, left him unable to work.However, the 65-year-old’s efforts to access his medical records and launch legal action against the Ministry of Defence for compensation were repeatedly blocked, judges at the European court of human rights, in Strasbourg, heard.

Mr Roche’s lawyers said he had been attempting to bring a case for years, and the legal rulings that preventeded him from doing so were a breach of his human rights.

They argued that the government had breached the human rights convention – to which the UK is a signatory – by using the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 to prevent Mr Roche from suing the MoD for negligence. The act effectively blocks any such proceedings concerning events that took place prior to 1987.

Mr Roche’s requests for his medical records were turned down, as was access to information about the Porton Down experiments he underwent in 1962 and 1963.

The human rights judges must decide whether the lack of disclosure of documents and the use of the 1947 legislation to block legal action amounts to violations of human rights convention guarantees on the right to a fair hearing, the right to respect for private life, the protection of property and the prohibition of discrimination.

Earlier this month, Mr Roche, who is registered disabled, won a high court victory in his long fight for a war disablement pension.

Mr Justice Davis ruled that the pensions appeal tribunal had « erred in law » when it rejected his pension application after he developed chronic respiratory disease and hypertension – debilitating conditions which he says left him unemployable.

Mr Roche served in the Royal Engineers between February 1954 and April 1968. In the first tests, he and seven other men were strapped into chairs in an unventilated room and, over a period of six hours, had drops of mustard gas applied to patches of uniform-type material taped to their skin.

In 1963, he was placed in an airtight cubicle and inhaled GF gas through a face mask similar to an oxygen mask.

At the high court hearing, his counsel, Fionn Pilbrow, said he had been given no warning that the tests could prove detrimental to his health. Volunteers said they were told not to relate their experiences, and that to do so would be a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

The human rights judges were expected to deliver their verdict later this year or early in 2005.


Porton Down chemical weapons tests unethical, says report

More than 400 military personnel were deliberately exposed to chemical weapons in government-run experiments which seriously breached ethical standards, an official report has concluded. The men were exposed to painful amounts of nerve gas and mustard gas by scientists at the Porton Down chemical warfare establishment in Wiltshire.The report published yesterday was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence in 2000, following pressure from many veterans who complained that the experiments had inflicted lasting damage on their health. The ministry asked Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, an expert in scientific ethics, to evaluate the work of the Porton scientists.Sir Ian criticised five sets of trials carried out during the second world war and the cold war. « I am persuaded there were trials, albeit a few out of the many thousands conducted at Porton … when it may be said the research may not have met the ethical standards required of the researchers and those who approved the trials. »He added: « These trials clearly amount to serious departures from what should have been done. But, on the evidence of the survey, they are few in number and spread over several decades. » He cautioned against judging the scientists by the moral standards of today’s comparatively peaceful world. « The work was conducted in difficult times: during the 1930s with the memory of the great war and the threat of more war to come; during the second world war, when the survival of the nation was at stake; and during the acute tensions of the cold war, and, later, of civil disturbance, » he wrote. « It involved research into agents which were deadly, or agents which had to be made safe. This must not be forgotten. »

In the biggest of the criticised trials, Porton scientists dripped liquid nerve gas on to the arms of 440 men between 1951 and 1953, an experiment which was brought to an end when one of the servicemen, Ronald Maddison, died. Sir Ian said this experiment was « uncontrollably dangerous » and went « too far. » He said that in 1945, the scientists tested nerve gas on eight men without knowing what it was, and then in 1951, without knowing « with sufficient certainty » the lethal dose of the chemical weapon.

In 1942, six men were exposed to mustard gas for five consecutive days – three suffered severe burns on their scrotums. Sir Ian doubted that the men consented to the experiment. He also places a question mark over another run of trials from the 1950s to the 1970s, in which the eyes of around 450 men were exposed to sarin nerve gas.

« The trials might be said by some to have constituted too great a step into the unknown. »

A total of 11,000 men were exposed to mustard and nerve gas in Porton experiments between 1939 and 1989.



MoD offers nerve gas veterans £3m and an apology

Background: Porton Down

Porton Down sign

Sign for defence evaluation research agency at Porton Down

The Ministry of Defence is to offer compensation and an apology to the Porton Down victims of secret chemical testing, it was reported today.It is understood £3m will be made available between the 360 veterans who claim they were tricked into becoming « human guinea pigs » for nerve gas experiments.The ex-servicemen say they were duped into thinking the trials only involved cold remedy tests at the military research centre in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

But results of toxicology tests later revealed exposure to nerve agents and hallucinogenic chemicals, causing memory loss, flashbacks and lethargy.

Today, an MoD spokeswoman confirmed mediation between both parties was ongoing but said it would be inappropriate to go into details as the legal process remained active.

« The parties are engaged in a mediation process which is not yet concluded, the details of which are confidential, » she said.

« The issue of whether any mediated settlement would be acceptable to the veterans is entirely a matter between the veterans and their solicitors. »

The BBC today reported that around 90% of the Porton Down veterans had agreed to accept the MoD payout, amounting to £8,300 each, as well as an apology.

Yet some claimants who have agreed to the settlement are insisting they are now being refused payment until all veterans agree to the deal.

The BBC quoted veteran Derek Shenton, from Hampshire, who said: « There was very high pressure to sign [the MoD agreement] – threats, basically ‘take it or leave it’.

« But once the Ministry of Defence got my signature, they came back and said ‘because there’s these various people who have decided to go missing, we are not going to pay you until we have got their signatures’. The whole thing is disgraceful. »

Hundreds of men took part in complex chemical testing held at Porton Down during the 1950s and 1960s.

Veterans claim they were duped into taking part in secret cold-war trials on the effects of sarin, which killed 12 people when it was released on the Tokyo underground in 1995 by members of a religious cult.

A detailed study by Prof James Bridges later analysed the medical and military records of the men involved. His research took account of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors, in a bid to fully explain the veterans’ health problems.

The results of the study, which contradict government-funded research, found it « highly probable » that the men’s long-term illnesses were due to the testing at the warfare base. At least 12 men are believed to have committed suicide following severe depression linked to their exposure to nerve agents.

The spokeswoman denied the MoD had put any pressure on veterans to agree to the settlement.

« The Porton Down veterans are represented by their solicitors who liaise with our solicitors on behalf of the group. There is no question of the MoD putting pressure on the veterans to accept any settlement.

« However, at no stage in the mediation process did the MoD offer to make an oral statement to the House of Commons and nor did we withdraw an offer to make an apology. »


Veterans close to MoD deal over Porton Down chemical tests

Hundreds of veterans who were exposed to painful chemical weapons in clandestine military experiments are close to receiving compensation and an apology from ministers, it emerged yesterday.The servicemen have fought a long campaign against the Ministry of Defence, claiming they were duped into taking part in the tests at the Porton Down chemical warfare installation in Wiltshire.The veterans and the ministry are still negotiating in private over the final details of the out-of-court settlement. The MoD has offered to pay £8,300 to each of the 360 veterans, a total of £3m. It is understood that more than 90% have voted to accept but a small number claim the offer is paltry and that they are being railroaded.

The settlement is likely to end the long-running controversy over the testing of « human guinea pigs ». Since 1916, more than 25,000 servicemen have taken part in tests at Porton Down where scientists have developed chemical weapons and protective equipment. It is the longest-running programme of chemical warfare tests on humans in the world.

Many servicemen were sent into gas chambers and exposed to chemical weapons, such as nerve gas, mustard gas and tear gas, so scientists could measure and record the effects on their bodies. In 1953 Ronald Maddison, an airman, was unlawfully killed in one of the tests after the scientists intentionally dropped liquid nerve gas on to his arm.

Many veterans say they were tricked because they believed they had volunteered to take part in common cold experiments, but were sent to Porton instead. Many believe that the poison gases ruined their health, causing illnesses such as respiratory and skin diseases, cancer, and psychological problems.

Lawyers have been preparing a large-scale legal action, which will be dropped if the veterans accept the compensation and apology. It is understood the MoD would not be required to admit the experiments caused ill health.

Any veteran who rejects the deal would have to find new lawyers to launch a fresh lawsuit. However experts believe that it is difficult to prove exposure to a particular chemical weapon had caused specific long-term ill-health, because the scientific data is sparse and uncertain.

Yesterday the MoD and the veterans’ lawyers were not commenting on the confidential negotiations until they have been concluded, although one veteran, Derek Shenton, told the BBC: « There was very high pressure to sign – threats basically – ‘take it or leave it’. »

The MoD denied it was coercing veterans to accept the deal, saying that it was their decision.

The MoD has already paid out £100,000 compensation to the family of Maddison, coupled with an apology. His relatives had spent decades trying to find out how and why he died in the nerve gas experiment which went disastrously wrong.


Porton Down veterans awarded £3m compensation

Porton Down

Porton Down defence research establishment in Wiltshire. Photograph: Martin Argles

Hundreds of veterans who were subjected to tests at the Porton Down chemical warfare installation are to be awarded compensation totalling £3m, the defence minister, Derek Twigg, announced today.In a written statement to MPs, Twigg offered the government’s first full apology to the servicemen, saying: « The government sincerely apologises to those who may have been affected. »The defence minister said the MoD would pay £8,300 to each of the 369 veterans – a total of just over £3m.He said the sum was « in full and final settlement » of claims, and was being awarded without an admission of liability by the Ministry of Defence.

The award was welcomed by representatives of the veterans, who say they were tricked into taking part in tests at the Wiltshire facility during the cold war. Many believed they were helping to find a cure for the common cold.

A group of 369 servicemen affected launched legal action against the MoD last March, arguing that tests – including being sent to gas chambers and being exposed to nerve gas, mustard gas and teargas – had left them with health problems ranging from respiratory and skin diseases to cancer and psychological problems.

Eric Gow, chairman of the Porton Down Veterans’ Group, said: « It has been a long and protracted battle for justice but today makes it all worthwhile.

« I am just so very sorry and angry that many of our comrades had to die before we reached this point – but I am sure they will be looking down on us today with some degree of satisfaction. »

Ken Earl, group spokesman, said: « I am so pleased that settlement has at last been reached. It will allow our members to at last have some degree of closure on this issue. »

But not everyone was so positive. Joe Kearns, a former radio aircraft engineer from Glasgow who spent time at Porton Down in the 1970s, said he only signed the deal reluctantly.

He said: « I haven’t been able to work for 37 years. I couldn’t even get a job as a hospital porter. I have short term memory problems. I’m really blind. I’m back and forth to hospital. I’ve had two hips replaced and spinal operations.

« It’s the pure injustice. I have no option but to sign and accept the form. Otherwise they will wash their hands of us. I just don’t want the MoD to walk away from this smelling of roses. »

Lawyers for the veterans said their acceptance of the compensation and the apology brought to an end the group legal action against the MoD. Mediation on the settlement began in December last year.

Solicitor Alan Care, who has acted for the veterans since 1994, said: « Today is the culmination of well over a decade’s work to obtain some justice and recognition for the veterans who have undoubtedly been treated poorly until now by the Ministry of Defence for so many years.

« Today we see a truly historic apology from the MoD and government who now ‘sincerely apologise’ to the veterans. »

Solicitor Martyn Day said: « Today ends a very sorry chapter in the history of the Ministry of Defence. The treatment of the veterans was simply appalling.

« However, today’s settlement and apology will, undoubtedly, go some way to healing the wounds that this episode caused. It is such a shame it has taken so long for this point to have been reached. »

It is believed that as many as 12 veterans have died since the current legal case was launched.

Twigg said Britain owed a « debt » to those who took part in trials at Porton Down, adding: « The security of the country rested on these trials and the contribution of those who took part in them. »

He added: « The government accepts that there were aspects of the trials where there may have been shortcomings and, where, in particular, the life or health of participants may have been put at risk. »

Since 1916 more than 25,000 servicemen took part in tests at Porton Down, where scientists developed chemical weapons and protective equipment. It is the longest-running programme of chemical warfare tests on humans in the world.


Porton Down veterans had raised death rates after chemical warfare tests

Veterans of Ministry of Defence tests at Porton Down in the UK involving chemical warfare agents such as sarin, lewisite and sulphur mustard had a higher mortality rate in subsequent years.

Porton Down
Porton Down: Veterans of chemical warfare tests at the MoD establishment were more likely to die from heart disease and infections. Photograph: Martin Argles

British servicemen who acted as guinea pigs in controversial chemical warfare tests at Porton Down in Wiltshire subsequently had a higher mortality rate than others in the forces, a study has found.

The Ministry of Defence tested hundreds of chemical agents on militaryvolunteers for decades after the First World War, prompting concerns among some veterans that their health had been permanently damaged.

More than half of the Porton Down veterans were exposed to known or suspected cancer-causing chemicals.

In most cases, experiments ran over one to four weeks, with servicemen typically exposed to chemical or biological agents twice each week.

The MoD-funded study of more than 18,000 men who took part in the tests found that their risk of dying between 1941 and 2004 was 6% higher than that for other members of the forces, although they were no more likely to die from cancer.

Researchers at the University of Oxford compared the medical records of 18,276 servicemen who had tests at Porton Down and 17,600 other military veterans. By 2004, 7,306 of the men involved in the tests had died, compared with 6,900 who were not.

Katherine Venables, who led the study, said it was impossible to tell whether the extra deaths were caused by nerve agents such as sarin; blistering agents such as lewisite and sulphur mustard, and antidotes for nerve agents, including atropine.

The study found that the Porton Down veterans were slightly more likely to die from heart disease, infectious diseases, parasites and « external causes », which includes accidents, suicide and homicide. Some of these deaths may be explained by smoking, poor diet and other factors unrelated to the chemicals used in the tests.

Most of the Porton Down volunteers spent longer in the forces than the comparison group of servicemen, and so could have spent more time on foreign deployments, where their chances of contracting diseases and parasites or being involved in accidents was higher. Servicemen were also asked to volunteer for the tests, and so on average may have been a more risk-taking group in other areas of their lives.

« If the Porton Down veterans smoked a bit more than our comparison group, that might explain a 6% excess in cardiovascular deaths, but we can’t exclude the possibility that it is related to either the experience of going to Porton Down, or specific exposures at the lab, » said Venables, whose study appears in the British Medical Journal.

In a second paper in the journal, Venables’ team found the same group of Porton Down servicemen were no more likely to have died from cancer than other servicemen. They were, however, more likely to be diagnosed and successfully treated for early stage cancers.

« There was a 45% increase in malignant neoplasms in the Porton Down group, and these are usually pre-cancerous lesions, » said Venables. These early-stage cancers were picked up in 93 servicemen who spent time at Porton Down, compared with only 64 of the other servicemen. Venables said her team cannot explain the figures, but it is possible that servicemen who were involved in tests, which often involved having cancer-causing chemicals painted onto their skin, were more vigilant for early signs of cancer.

« We had no idea what we were going to find when we set out to do this study, » said Venables. « We haven’t found evidence of a hugely increased risk compared with other military personnel who didn’t go to Porton Down, and overall I take that as reassuring, » she said.

The higher death rate among the Porton Down veterans may be an underestimate, as the men had gone through a selection process before the MoD tests that eliminated all but the most healthy.

In an editorial in the journal, Malcom Sim, an epidemiologist at Monash University in Melbourne, said there was still a question mark over the health impacts of the tests and called for more work in the area.

Last year, in an out-of-court settlement after Porton Down volunteers claimed the government’s testing programme had put their health at risk,the MoD said it would apologise to hundreds of former service personnel and offered a £3m compensation package.

In 1999, Wiltshire police force began an investigation into experiments at Porton Down following a complaint over the death of 20-year-old aircraftman Ronal Maddison, who died shortly after having liquid sarin dripped on his arm. An inquest into his death in 2004 recorded a verdict of unlawful killing, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to press charges against surviving scientists who had overseen the experiments. The MoD paid the Maddison family £100,000 in compensation.


2 réponses à “¤ A la base militaire de « Porton Down », on a « enfumé » les anglais pendant cinquante ans !”

  1. It security dit :

    Can you tell us more about this? I’d want to find out some additional information.

  2. Hello, what do you want to know that has not yet been written down by The Guardian ?

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