MoD reaches deal on nerve gas death

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence has acknowledged that an RAF serviceman was unlawfully killed because of gross negligence when he was subjected to lethal nerve gas tests more than 50 years ago.

But in a compromise deal which infuriated veterans, the Government successfully argued that there was "insufficient evidence" that consent to take part in the experiment was not received. The row centres on the fate of Leading Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison, who died aged 20 after having droplets of sarin dabbed on to his arm in secret nerve gas experiments at Porton Down chemical warfare testing facility in Wiltshire in May 1953.

While his family insist Mr Maddison was tricked into participating in the tests believing they were "harmless experiments" into a cure for the cold, the Government has maintained he gave informed consent.

An inquest 15 months ago returned a verdict of "unlawful killing" and yesterday the MoD was due to challenge the inquest jury's decision before the High Court but - in an "important concession" - reached a settlement after agreeing to accept the verdict on the basis that Mr Maddison from Consett, Co Durham, had died as a result of "gross negligence" in respect of the "conduct and planning" of the experiment.

However, it only did so on the understanding that the verdict was altered to remove the finding that Mr Maddison was the victim of "unlawful act manslaughter" because of a failure to obtain consent.

After the hearing, Ken Earl of the Porton Down Veterans' Support Group said he was disappointed by the court's decision to vary the verdict. He added: "I was duped. Most of us were duped. Nobody was told before we went to Porton Down what was going on."