Porton Down scientists escape charges for poisoning soldiers

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The Independent Online

Veterans reacted angrily yesterday after the Crown Prosecution Service announced that no criminal action would be taken against scientists who secretly conducted chemical warfare tests on hundreds of volunteers over five decades.

The former servicemen and women claim they have suffered years of bad health after being used as "guinea pigs" at the Ministry of Defence's Porton Down laboratories on Salisbury Plain.

In response to allegations by veterans' groups, Wiltshire police examined the cases of more than 700 people who took part in the experiments between 1939 and 1989. Many have said they believed they were involved in research to find a cure for the common cold, but were instead exposed to CS gas, mustard gas and hallucinogens such as LSD.

The CPS said: "The CPS has given thorough and careful consideration to all the evidence submitted in a number of sample cases and has decided that it is insufficient to prosecute in those cases." It said inquiries would continue in one case that was submitted to police three months ago.

Ken Earl, chairman of the Porton Down Veterans Support Group, said: "We think the veterans have been shabbily treated after volunteering without question. We have all suffered in some way."

Mr Earl, who says he was given a nerve agent at the centre in 1953, said: "I have been ill all my life - I have been in and out of hospital since my 30s and this was done to me when I was 19. There will be a lot of resentment, but we expected it." He said some of his group, whose 438 members are made up of Porton Down veterans and their families, would consider bringing civil actions.

Ron Clarke, 65, of Saltash, Cornwall, who believes he has suffered several health problems because he took part in the tests in the 1950s, said he felt despondent at the decision.

"It is not anger, but frustration that we are not getting anywhere," he said. "It appeared on the face of it there was a case, the case seemed strong and everyone seemed confident, then down we go again."

Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell, who has campaigned for the veterans, said: "This allows the Government off the hook. The probability is that we will now never get to the bottom of this."