Chemical test volunteers did not get regular checks

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HUMAN guinea pigs who volunteered for experiments at the Government's top secret Porton Down chemical warfare centre were not subject to regular long-term after-care, officials have admitted for the first time.

The admission, made in a letter last week from Dr Graham Pearson, head of the Ministry of Defence Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down in Wiltshire, to Derek Fatchett, MP for Leeds Central, immeasurably strengthens the case of the volunteers in their fight for compensation for ill-health caused by the experiments.

The volunteers, all of whom were drawn from the armed forces, allege they have suffered breathing problems, skin and eye disorders, liver and kidney complaints and rare cancers, all because they agreed to take part in Porton Down research.

For each test, some of which involved putting droplets of irritants into eyes or exposure to nerve gas in sealed chambers, the volunteers were paid just two shillings and sixpence. Most did it out of a sense of patriotism.

The admission of failure to provide long-term checks on the thousands of volunteers who took part in Porton Down tests paves the way for an action against the Government in the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. So far, five members of the recently formed Porton Down Volunteers Association have been granted legal aid.

They are also considering bringing an action in the English courts for assault on the grounds they were never told what exactly was being done to them. Alan Care, their solicitor, expects more volunteers will come forward with claims.

Since 1965 alone, admitted Dr Pearson, 5,400 volunteers had taken part in experiments at Porton Down.

None of them received any monitoring once they had left the services. In his letter, Dr Pearson said if they revolunteered for tests they would automatically receive a check up, they would receive regular medicals while in the armed forces, and "from time to time" volunteers might be recalled for further studies.

Otherwise, that was all the aftercare they ever received.

Michael Roche, founder of the Volunteers Association, has suffered severe respiratory problems for years, caused, he claims, by taking part in a nerve gas experiment at Porton Down in 1964.

Ian Bruce, another volunteer, suffers from narcolepsy (the nervous disease causing fitful drowsiness) brought on, he says, by Porton Down. Another volunteer, whom Mr Care will not name, has lost the use of his right eye after droplets of tear gas were squirted into it.

Mr Fatchett said the Government's attitude was a disgrace. "We need a full independent medical inquiry to find out what happened," he said.

"It should be in two stages, to establish the causal link between the illnesses and the experiments, and then once that has been achieved, immediately set compensation."

A Porton Down spokesman said there had been no need for a long-term study of the volunteers, "because they were military volunteers".