MoD tests on chemical weapons 'broke law'
By Sally Pook
EVIDENCE that Ministry of Defence scientists broke the law during chemical
weapons tests on ex-servicemen at Porton Down emerged for the first time
yesterday in a confidential letter to an alleged victim.
Chemical and biological tests were passed off as research into cold cures
The letter to Gordon Bell, who underwent tests at the defence establishment
in Wiltshire in 1959 and 1960, suggested that a criminal offence was
committed during the trials.
The disclosure came as police announced they were preparing to send a file
on their investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will decide
whether anyone should be prosecuted.
It follows a two-year inquiry by Wiltshire police into claims by
ex-servicemen that they were exposed to nerve gas and other chemical and
biological agents after volunteering for what they believed was research to
find a cure for the common cold. Many say they are ill as a result of the
trials at the Salisbury Plain centre.
In the letter to Mr Bell, obtained by the Radio 4 Today programme, Det Supt
Gerry Luckett 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."
He added that a number of people corroborated Mr Bell's evidence that
volunteers were asked to take part in tests into finding a cure for the
common cold. Three witnesses had been traced.
Mr Bell, 63, from Sunderland, claims that substances being tested for
chemical weapons were dripped on to his skin. He still does not know what
the substances were but suffers from skin problems and said biopsies had
identified cells which were pre-cancerous.
He said the letter confirmed his claims that he had been recruited for
common cold research. Mr Bell also claims that Aircraftman Ronald Maddison,
from Consett, Co Durham, died in May 1953 when a nerve agent was dripped on
to his arm.
He said the police letter told him that the Salisbury coroner had applied
to the Attorney General for permission to ask the High Court to quash the
verdict of misadventure recorded at Mr Maddison's inquest.
"I would like an independent public inquiry, but that has been turned down
by the Government," he said. "I want to see the people responsible brought
to account. What they have done is horrific. They have taken away my health
and my rights. "It was parallel to the tests the Nazis carried out in the
Since 1916 more than 20,000 servicemen have allegedly been exposed to
chemicals including mustard gas, nerve agents, CS gas and LSD at Porton
Down, the bulk of them in the 1950s and 1960s.
David Taylor, of Wiltshire police, confirmed that a letter was sent to Mr
Bell but said it would be inappropriate to comment because it was
confidential. "We can confirm that no papers have yet been sent to the CPS.
However, we do expect to be sending papers in due course."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said he could not comment on the letter to
Mr Bell as it was private. He said: "The MoD has found no evidence itself
to substantiate the allegations that volunteers were systematically duped
into believing they were attending common cold research.
"The MoD has not been informed by the police of any conclusions and we
continue to co-operate with their inquiry." Wiltshire police said they were
appealing for anyone who had seen the notices asking for volunteers at
Porton Down Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment or other military
establishments to contact police.
Porton Down probe is thwarted by deaths
By Rajeev Syal
THE police inquiry into allegations of illegal experiments on ex-servicemen
at Porton Down, the MoD research establishment, may never come to court,
because almost all the scientists responsible are dead.
A letter obtained by The Telegraph shows that only one senior official
involved in experiments on an individual in 1960 has been cautioned so far,
and he denied any direct involvement.
Many of the MoD officials responsible cannot be found because some have
died and documents have been destroyed, according to one detective close to
The latest disclosure comes just two days after the announcement that
police are preparing to send a number of files to the Crown Prosecution
Service which will decide whether anyone can be prosecuted.
It follows a two-year investigation by Wiltshire police into claims that
soldiers were exposed to nerve gas and other chemical and biological agents
after volunteering for research into the common cold.
Although research started at Porton Down just after the First World War and
continued until the 1970s, most complaints received by police relate to
tests carried out in the 1950s and 1960s.
In a letter to one ex-serviceman, the head of the investigation, Det Supt
Gerry Luckett, outlined the problems of obtaining sufficient evidence for
prosecution because documents cannot be found.
He writes: "The inquiry team is attempting to locate surviving individuals
from a list of former employees to establish whether there are any who took
part in any of your recorded tests.
"The police can of course only carry out inquiries to identify potential
offenders in respect of the recorded tests. It is clearly extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to identify individuals where there are no
records in existence."
Any criminal case against scientists or MoD officials who helped to
administer the tests will have to prove that they were "the directing mind"
behind the experiments. Charges could include manslaughter, assault or
administering noxious substances.
The letter reveals that in one case, police managed to identify the staff
involved. It says: "Officers have interviewed a former Porton Down employee
under caution. He took part in the Pyrexal experiments but as an
administrator as opposed to playing any active part.
"Unfortunately everyone else named in the technical paper relating to those
experiments has since died. This individual has claimed that he has been
brought into the trial at a late date to carry out post-exposure tests. He
claims that he neither recruited volunteers nor administered any substances
Detectives will interview more alleged guinea pigs this week and were due
to fly to Australia to interview a woman who claims that she has cancer as
a result of tests at Porton Down.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman last week said that the Government is not
aware of any evidence that substantiates the allegations against MoD
He said: "The MoD has not been informed by police of any conclusions and we
continue to co-operate with their inquiry."