Parliament was misled about Gulf syndrome

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The Independent Online
The Ministry of Defence misled Parliament over the use of organophosphate pesticides by British troops in the 1991 Gulf War, the Government admitted yesterday as it announced two new studies into "Gulf-war illness" which has affected almost 1,000 British veterans .

The studies, costing pounds 1.3m over three years, will involve 12,000 service and former service personnel. They will try to find out whether ill-health is more prevalent among Gulf veterans and, if so, why, and to examine their reproductive health and any effects on their children.

There will also be an investigation into how the MoD came to tell Parliament that organophosphates were not used in the war, when in fact they had been employed on a large scale.

Announcing the studies, Nicholas Soames, Minister for the Armed Forces, told MPs that he was releasing the programme of vaccinations offered to troops as protection against attack with biological weapons such as anthrax and bubonic plague. He added that he wasappointing a medical liaison officer with the US Department of Defense to gain as much information from the Americans as possible and to avoid duplication of work.

But British experts still do not believe there is a single identifiable "disease" or "syndrome" attributable to Gulf War service. Yesterday, Professor Alan McGregor, chairman of the Medical Research Council's Advisory Committee on the Gulf War, referred to "Gulf-war illness", but insisted that this was merely a form of shorthand. "There is no evidence that there is a single entity," he said.

The MoD also released part of its report on the use of organophosphate pesticides. The team found that incorrect answers had been given to parliamentary questions on the use of these pesticides in 1994, and that the same wrong answers were repeatedly submitted in subsequent replies.

Dr David Clark, Labour'sspokesman on defence, said that Gulf War veterans had undergone "three years of unnecessary suffering". Mr Clark said he had demanded a full epidemiological study - like that announced yesterday - three years ago, and that Mr Soames had written to him in February 1995 saying it was "not appropriate".

The proposals were attacked by Dr Goran Jamal, an expert in the harmful effects of organophosphates, who said such a study was "a waste of time".

Dr Jamal, who is based at the Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, said scientists needed to discover the causes of the Gulf War illnesses first and carry out the epidemiological studies later to confirm their findings. Earlier this month Dr Jamal resigned from the panel advising three government departments on the effects of organophosphates on human health.

Hilary Meredith, a solicitor representing around 1,000 veterans who are claiming compensation for illness suffered since the war, said the Government was starting to back down but only "inch by inch".

Reports of a Gulf "illness" first appeared in spring 1993. Possible causes include the use of nerve-agent pre-treatment sets (Naps), taken as a precaution, the "cocktail" of vaccines and the pesticides used to control flies.

The experts yesterday said there had been no reports of"Gulf War sickness" among the people of Kuwait, none among the Iraqi prisoners dusted with organophosphates to kill lice, and none among the French or Canadians. That suggested that something unique to the British and US soldiers was responsible.