Porton Down: Investigation 'now looking into 45 deaths'

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The Independent Online

Police investigating chemical warfare tests at a Ministry of Defence research centre in Wiltshire are now thought to be examining at least 45 deaths.

Police investigating chemical warfare tests at a Ministry of Defence research centre in Wiltshire are now thought to be examining at least 45 deaths.

Their inquiry initially focused on the death of Ronald Maddison, who died in 1953 after he was exposed to the nerve gas sarin B in trials at the Porton Down centre. Wiltshire Police are believed to be looking at another 45 cases where relatives claim death was caused by the tests.

The force would not confirm a figure last night but did say that relatives had made a series of allegations. Some Wiltshire Police sources were quoted as saying the inquiry could eventually include 70 deaths as a result of the complaints.

The investigation began after former servicemen, who were among about 20,000 workers tested at Porton Down over the past 80 years, alleged they were tricked into volunteering for dangerous chemical warfare tests in the Fifties and Sixties.

Many believe they suffered respiratory illnesses, skin diseases, heart and lung problems and poor eyesight because of the tests. If their complaints are upheld, the MoD faces multi-million-pound compensation claims.

One of the most serious allegations centres on Maddison, who died aged 20 after liquid sarin was applied to his arm. The death certificate for Maddison, of Consett, Co Durham says he died from asphyxia. The coroner's report into his death has never been released. Maddison's representatives allege that scientists wanted to see how long the chemical took to seep through battle dress.

Wiltshire Police's investigation was originally expected to finish last month but last night a force spokesman said it had "some way to run" and was not expected to end before the end of the year.

The spokesman said that confirming the number of deaths under investigation was not helpful because it led to relatives contacting the inquiry team to see if their case was included, which took time away from working on the inquiry.

Wiltshire Police have asked the Home Office for help in meeting the bill for the inquiry, which was standing at £340,000 last month, with running costs at £40,000 a month.

Yesterday, five new officers seconded from the Army, Navy and Air Force's own police services joined the investigators. The team, headed by a detective superintendent, already included two MoD police officers, six detectives, four constables and two support staff. Crown Prosecution Service lawyers and Home Office staff also advise the team. The Metropolitan Police has reviewed the case and said it needed further investigation and resources but the Home Office rarely gives special assistance payments.

As part of the inquiry, detectives have travelled to the United States. The Pentagon agreed to pay compensation to members of its armed forces whose health was affected by similar nerve gas experiments carried out there.

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