Police investigate Porton Down trial

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The Independent Online
POLICE ARE investigating the death of a 20-year-old "human guinea pig", Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison, in nerve gas tests at the Porton Down chemical warfare centre in 1953.

The police inquiry was initiated after claims from former servicemen who say they suffered ill-health as result of volunteering for experiments. Detectives have interviewed a former RAF navigator, Gordon Bell, 61, who has compiled a dossier of the allegations.

Documents from Porton Down indicate A/C Maddison died because scientists wanted to know how much nerve agent it took to penetrate a military uniform. The allegation says 200mg of the nerve agent Sarin was dripped on a to a piece of uniform taped to the young airman's arm.

Sarin is one of the most potent of all nerve gas agents and just 1mg is lethal if inhaled. A/c Maddison apparently died an agonising death but there is no suggestion the death was deliberate, although his inquest was held in secret on the grounds of "national security".

Sarin was developed by the Nazis and has been manufactured by Saddam Hussein's regime, although the United Nations confirmed he used another nerve agent, Tabun, against Iran during their war from 1984 to 1988. Sarin was used in the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack in which 12 people died at the hands of the Aum Shinrikyo sect.

More than 20,000 British servicemen volunteered for tests over 20 years at Porton Down. Some 300 have claimed the experiment caused disabilities including skin and eye illnesses, kidney and liver problems and depression. A few have received disability pensions. Some now say they were told before Porton Down's Sarin tests that they were helping with research into the common cold. Gordon Bell says he took part in experiments three times and was paid two shillings, approximately 20p.

"It was a dirty trick, plain and simple," he said. He claims he has suffered ill health for more than 40 years as a result.

Gerald Beach, another former serviceman, said in 1950, when he was 20, he was given a gas mask and put in a chamber with a cage of rabbits. His eyes stung as gas was released and by the time he came out, the rabbits were dead.

A National Serviceman, Michael Paynter, thought he was involved in research into the common cold, but developed migraines, growths and a twisted spine.

Wiltshire police said yesterday they are "investigating an allegation made by a former RAF serviceman regarding injury suffered by him whilst participating in experiments at Porton Down Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment". A spokesman added: "The police are also inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the death of former serviceman Ronald Maddison."

The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, part of the Ministry of Defence, said: "We are more than willing to make available to the police our archives from that period.

"Gordon Bell has visited Porton Down on two occasions to view all the records we have on his time here as a volunteer. He once attended with his MP Chris Mullin and the second time with his wife. As this is now a matter of a police investigation, it would inappropriate for us to comment further."