Porton Down 'knew tests could be fatal'

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Scientists at the Porton Down secret weapons base knew they were risking the lives of young national servicemen used as guinea pigs in nerve gas tests, a toxicologist claimed yesterday. One man died in the experiments, and his family are accusing the scientists of murdering him.

Scientists at the Porton Down secret weapons base knew they were risking the lives of young national servicemen used as guinea pigs in nerve gas tests, a toxicologist claimed yesterday. One man died in the experiments, and his family are accusing the scientists of murdering him.

According to Alastair Hay, from Leeds University, the briefing notes made by scientists at the Wiltshire base suggested they knew the doses they were giving the servicemen could be fatal.

"They were playing with fire, they were exposing people to concentrations which in the event only killed one man but weren't far off perhaps killing a number of others," said Mr Hay.

A police inquiry was started two months ago into the death in 1953 of a 20-year-old airman, Ronald Maddison, from Consett, Co Durham, after allegations that servicemen were tricked into taking part in lethal tests with nerve gas. It is said that 200mg of sarin, a deadly nerve agent, was dripped on to the arm of Mr Maddison's uniform to test the clothing's protective properties.

Since August it has been reported that Wiltshire police are investigating the deaths of 25 national servicemen who took part in tests at the research centre in the Fifties and Sixties. A team of detectives is considering possiblecharges, which could include corporate manslaughter.

The new claims were made in a BBC North East & Cumbria documentary called A Death At Porton Down, shown last night, whose makers had access to secret files. Some servicemen, who were given extra pay and time off in exchange for taking part in the tests, said they were told the experiments were for a cure for the common cold.

The Ministry of Defence has repeatedly denied the allegation that servicemen were misled in any way.

The documentary featured a former "guinea pig" Mike Cox, 68, from Southampton, who was with Ronald Maddison on the day he died in the gas chamber where the tests were carried out. The programme also featured relatives of Mr Maddison speaking of the events of 46 years ago for the first time. Lilias Craik, his sister, said: "If he'd died in the war, then I could understand, but to die over some stupid stuff that they put on his arm, which you shouldn't do to anybody, then, I'm sorry, I think they murdered him."

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