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Porton Down

Ex-soldiers tell of tests at Porton Down that threatened their health


Taken from the Daily Mail, 21-8-1999 & 19-10-1999. NB. Some content provided by 'Femail'.

"We were guinea pigs"

Ex-soldiers tell of tests at Porton Down that threatened their health

By Christian Gysin, 21-8-1999.

Former servicemen described yesterday how they were used as guinea pigs at the secret germ warfare base, Porton Down.

They spoke as police launched an inquiry into the death of an RAF aircraftman more than 40 years ago. Ronald Maddison died after the lethal nerve agent sarin was dripped on to his arm in 1953 to test the protective quality of uniforms.

It was acknowledged in Whitehall that should any allegations of wrongdoing at the Wiltshire establishment be proved, scores of other ex-servicemen could launch compensation claims running into millions.

Since the Porton Down volunteer programme was launched in the First World War, more than 20,000 volunteers from all three Services have taken part in experiments, including 5,000 in the past 30 years.

Police plan to contact the 400 members of the Porton Down Volunteers Association. It is headed by Michael Roche, who was a 24-year-old corporal in the Royal Engineers when he volunteered for Porton Down "out of Patriotism".

He said at his home in Rochdale: "I wanted to help. At that time I was as strong as an ox, I could carry two bags of cement on my shoulders. Now, I can't even lift two bags of sugar."

Mr Roche, 60, first underwent tests in 1962. One test involved nerve gas inhalation which he said took place in an airtight cubicle containing a face mask.

"A loudspeaker informed us that the dosage was about to be j administered and to inhale normally. The immediate reaction was a tightening of the muscles and the lungs. For some volunteers this lasted several seconds while others experienced it fork several minutes."

Mr Roche's health deteriorated in his 40s, with high blood pressure and breathing difficulties.

"I firmly believe that the Government at the time, and subsequent Governments who have covered up the events, are guilty of war crimes", said Mr Roach.

He said other volunteers suffered 'horrendous' health problems including severe headaches, skin and eye cancers, brain tumours, paralysis, chronic bronchitis, asthma, nervous disorders and blistering.

Gordon Bell, who now lives in Canada, was recruited to test 'cold cures'.

I volunteered to earn a bit of extra leave. In one test we had to stand in front of a stream of gas which I could not stand for more than a minute. My face was stinging, my throat was red raw and my lungs were burning."

"I was paid two shillings. It was a dirty trick, plain and simple."

Peter Carpenter was a 19-year-old Lance Bombardier with the 37th Heavy Royal Artillery in North Wales when he volunteered. The 67-year-old from Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, said yesterday:

"We were taken into a field and told to go into a metal cone. I had a perforated can of flies and a rabbit in a cage. We were told that when we heard an explosion we had to go and stand near a wooden stake outside."

"They asked if we could smell anything. All the officers were wearing gas masks, but we didn't have them."

"The next thing we knew we were all in bed and my hands, wrists and ankles were all aching. They never told us we were open to any danger."


PORTON DOWN, set in 7,000 acres of Wiltshire countryside, is one of the most secure and sensitive installations in the United Kingdom.

The Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment (CBDE) was founded in 1916 to combat German gas attacks.

Since then, chemical warfare experiments have ranged from tests on bacteria cultures to the effects of nerve gas. Between two world wars, intensive research was carried out to discover how best to protect troops from mustard gas.

In 1942, a secret army of factory girls packed five million cattle cakes contaminated with deadly anthrax into boxes to be dropped over German pastures. In the event 'Operation Vegetarian' was aborted.

During the sixties, the effects of LSD were tested on soldiers to discover whether an LSD aerosol 'weapon' could weaken enemy units.

In the seventies, Porton Down is estimated to have carried out 200,000 experiments a year on animals.

Three years ago, the establishment unveiled a £3.5m gas chamber as a 'defensive measure' to test the next generation of nerve gases and other lethal agents.

"Porton Down tests killed our husbands"


THE Porton Down scandal deepened last night after new details emerged of how ex-Servicemen and other staff were conned into being used as guinea pigs.

Widows of men who volunteered for experiments at the secret germ warfare base claimed their husbands had died prematurely as a direct result.

They spoke out after the Daily Mail revealed that detectives are now investigating `suspicious' deaths of 25 men who suffered illnesses after agreeing to be Porton Down guinea pigs.

Home Secretary Jack Straw and new Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon were being briefed on developments following news that the inquiry has been widened to cover the period between the end of the Second World War in 1945 and the 1970s.

More than 300 survivors of Porton Down experiments are expected to be interviewed in an investigation which could last up to two years.

Several new victims contacted the Daily Mail yesterday, claiming they too had suffered ill-health after volunteering for tests at the Wiltshire defence establishment.

It is understood that others are in contact with Wiltshire police, the force heading the inquiry.

One widow told how her husband, who later died of cancer, was paid a shilling a day to take part in tests for radioactivity. Another described a cocktail of 'immunisation' jabs - including anthrax - given to her husband.

The secretary of the Porton Down Volunteers Association, Mick Roche, yesterday welcomed the wider inquiry and said: "I want the truth." Mr Roche, 61, a former lance corporal in the Royal Engineers who has suffered years of hypertension from being exposed to nerve gas, added: "I hope the police produce sufficient evidence to show that myself, anti other volunteers, were conned by Porton Down."

Many Porton Down volunteers were told they were helping research into the common cold. They claim they have since suffered respiratory illnesses, heart and skin problems, poor eyesight and depression. The inquiry by 14 detectives, including two on secondment from the Ministry of Defence police, is hugely sensitive because it could result in prosecutions of former MoD staff and compensation claims by victims' families.

The new allegations from relatives surfaced after it was revealed in August that an investigation had begun into the agonising death in 1953 of 20-year-old RAF aircraftsman Ronald Maddison.

It was claimed that the nerve agent Sarin was dripped on to a patch of uniform taped to his arm, allegedly because scientists wanted to find out how much it took to penetrate the uniform and kill.

The Crown Prosecution Service gave the go-ahead for the Maddison inquiry after a campaign by Gordon Bell, who now lives in Canada. He says he and other men who took part in the trials in the late 1950s and early 1960s were never warned of the risks. Yesterday Mr Bell, 61, said reports of a far wider investigation were "appalling, but I am not shocked".

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "I have always felt that the Maddison case was just the tip of the iceberg."

Wiltshire police decline to comment.

Porton Down, which was founded in 1918 amid fears of German gas attacks, is now run by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency for the MoD.

WHEN Frederick Nyman set off for work at Porton Down on September 20, 1966, he laughed as he said goodbye to his wife.

When he returned later that day, he had agonising stomach pains. Less than three months later, the father of three was dead.

His widow, Hettie, told the Daily Mail: "When I saw him that night he was in a terrible state. He said, "I've had that bloody American bubonic plague injection."

Mrs Nyman, from Salisbury, was told her 45-year-old husband had died of stomach cancer, but she has spent the last 30 years campaigning for an inquiry into the base which gave him a cocktail of 19 injections of smallpox, anthrax, plague, and polio over five years.

Mrs Nyman was told that he needed the immunisation jabs but she claimed: "I believe that was just an excuse. They were using him as a guinea pig. He wouldn't have refused because he would have been afraid to lose his job."

Private William Dyer was 19 when he was paid a shilling a day to crawl through a field sprayed with radioactive chemicals wearing overalls and afterwards be scanned for radiation levels.

The former Somerset Light infantry soldier died the day after his 49th birthday in 1987 of Hodgkin's disease - cancer of the lymph nodes.

His widow, Jeanette, 55, of Congrebury, near Bristol said: "They volunteered for what they thought were simple tests. They were young and wanted to earn a few extra bob - but now look at the price they have paid."