Porton Down 'dupedcleaner into breathing nerve gas'

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The Independent Online

Scientists tricked a cleaner into taking part in secret nerve gas tests, he has claimed in a case being pursued posthumously. In legal papers seen by The Independent on Sunday, Anthony Wise alleges the Ministry of Defence is guilty of assault and battery, false imprisonment, and negligence during a series of experiments on him at the defence research base at Porton Down, Wiltshire, in 1956 and 1957.

Mr Wise, a civilian cleaner at the base, claimed that staff at Porton Down, the government's secret biological and chemical warfare research laboratory, told him it was his patriotic duty and part of his job to participate in their trials.

They did not tell him which substances he was exposed to in the gas chamber or about the potential side-effects. He later complained of breathlessness and sore eyes, and is thought to have been exposed to sarin – a potentially lethal nerve gas.

Mr Wise died earlier this year after a long illness, aged 65, but his civil action for punitive and exemplary damages has been taken up his widow, Annie Wise, 67, of Downton, near Salisbury.

The case will be one of up to six test cases involving alleged ill-treatment and assault to be brought against the MoD early next year by Russell, Jones and Walker, a London-based legal firm, which has applied for legal aid.

The civil action comes as Wiltshire police near the end of a two-year criminal investigation into the alleged poisoning of hundreds of servicemen at Porton Down who were duped into believing they were taking part in trials for common cold cures during the 1950s and 1960s.

Porton Down admits that since 1945 at least 30,000 human "guinea pigs" have been involved in tests using nerve agents such as sarin, mustard gas, CS gas, incapacitants, hallucinogens such as LSD and artificial smog. One man, Ronald Maddison, was killed and hundreds others suffered blistering, breathing disorders, lung complaints and sight defects.

Mr Wise's case is regarded as highly significant because it is the only case so far of a civilian taking part. This allows his lawyers to sidestep Crown immunity, which prevents service personnel suing the MoD over events that took place before 1987, blocking damages actions involving up to 600 ex-services volunteers.

Mrs Wise said her husband told her that during each test, he was told to enter the gas chamber, then take off a gas mask for several seconds and walk around, and to shower afterwards. He was also given injections of unspecified liquid.

"They told him it was part of his job that he had to go into that room. He didn't know he was inhaling gas or that it was going to make him bad," she said.

Wiltshire police have already filed three "advice cases" to the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith. The force believes it has uncovered clear evidence of criminal assault at the laboratory but most of the scientists involved in the trials have now died, raising doubts that a prosecution will be brought.

The MoD claims it has no records of Mr Wise being employed at Porton Down and cannot verify his allegations. A spokesman said the Government would not comment on individual cases involving legal action, but added: "If any evidence can be brought forward to support his claims, it will be investigated."

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