Veterans ignored in Whitehall inquiry

Gulf War sickness: MoD cut out of report testimonies revealing that soldiers were drenched in chemicals
  • @iburrell
Staff Sergeant Anthony Worthington walked along the corridors of the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall on 14 November with a new confidence in his step.

Sgt Worthington believed he had the answers which would solve the riddle of the Gulf War illnesses which left 1,200 of his comrades sick and debilitated.

He had photographs and documents to show how troops were exposed to dangerous pesticides and he believed the MoD, at last, wanted to listen.

For five years the ministry had repeatedly denied that British troops were exposed to dangerous chemicals in the war.

Then last October, Nicholas Soames, the armed forces minister, admitted that troops used organophosphate pesticides to ward off desert pests.

If anybody should have known what happened it was Sgt Worthington. As senior environmental health technician for 4th Armoured brigade, he was responsible for administering the pesticide sprays.

Yet to Sgt Worthington's dismay he was treated with what he regarded as cynicism and hostility. Much of his evidence never featured in the report of the MoD's Organophosphate Pesticide Investigation Team published in December.

Today The Independent publishes the photographic and documentary evidence which shows that troops with no training and no protective clothing were told to spray camps with pesticides which were not intended for public hygiene use.

Untrained Saudis and Filipinos guest-workers were hired to go through the camps dousing tents with pesticides.

Veterans have testified that they were drenched with chemicals even while eating and sleeping. Among them was Major Christopher Irven, of the Royal Artillery. "I remember on more than one occasion eating in a mess tent while pest decontamination was in progress. I tried to cover my food as the fog settled on everything but continued to inhale the stuff."

At the Al Jubail camps, where many of the British troops were based, Larry Cammock, an RAMC medic, was eating in a bar when his meal was interrupted.

Two Filipino employees came into the canteen area with a sprayer each and continued to spray the walls and rafters," he said.

"I and the other British servicemen had to pass through the mist to get out of the entrance. Outside we were all coughing and our eyes were running."

Both men are now displaying the symptoms of Gulf War illness. So is Shaun Rusling, another medic who has testified that while serving at Al Jubail, he was exposed to Fenitrothion and Diazanon OPs.

He said: "I slept amongst it I ate amongst it. I was even covered while on the toilet."

As the spraying continued, large numbers of British troops began falling ill with diarrhoea and nausea as well as skin and respiratory problems.

The Independent has seen restricted health and hygiene reports documents prepared by Maj John Graham, in charge of medical operations in the Gulf.

One report, dated 4 December 1990, when the troops were first being exposed to the sprays, states: "Almost one-third of all cases admitted to hospital have diarrhoea and vomiting."

The most alarming piece of evidence given by SGT Worthington to the MoD investigators was that Neocidal 60, a winter sheep dip wholly inappropriate for public hygiene use, had been used by mistake.

The label was in Arabic but Sgt Worthington said he was assured by an officer that the pesticide was Blattanex 20, a far weaker carbamate insecticide.

The spraying team became so ill that they sought a translation of the label from a Jordanian doctor who identified it as the powerful Neocidal 60, based on the OP Diazinon.

Troops were issued withMalathion dusting powder which they used without protection. The Independent has seen a priority Army telex, issued this January, which orders immediate recall of Malathion "due to increased parliamentary interest". It says: "Malathion ... is not approved under the control of pesticides regulations and is not (not) to be used."