Then and Now

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The Independent Online
October 1996: Nicholas Soames, Minister of Defence, writes to the Commons Defence Committee on the subject of Gulf War syndrome. "We have been reviewing the records of all environmental and operational conditions to which British forces were exposed during the Gulf War ... [and] it has become clear that organophosphate pesticides (OPs) were used more widely than we had previously been led to believe." He goes on: "The use of some OPs may possibly be a clue to the conditions that some Gulf War veterans have suffered from. It will be investigated fully and with the utmost care." This is an issue, he writes, on which "we continue to keep an open mind".

June 1995: Vice-Admiral Tony Revell, surgeon-general of the armed forces, is among officials who give evidence to the Defence Committee on Gulf War syndrome. He denies suggestions by veterans claiming compensation that their illness was caused by injections and tablets given as protection against nerve gas and chemical attacks. He says that blood tests and X- rays on 300 servicemen have found no abnormalities. "The diagnosis in our population is no greater than what you would expect in the national statistics," he says. He is also dismissive of American research. Broadly, he argues that there is no evidence of a cause for the alleged syndrome, and no evidence of an illness common to alleged victims. He argues that the illnesses are more likely to be the result of stress brought on by the unusual environment in Saudi Arabia and by "fear of chemical, biological and Scud attacks night and day". Other Ministry of Defence experts are quoted as suggesting that veterans are probably victims of chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME.

By coincidence, in the same month, at a conference in London organised by the British Medical Association, a link is made between the symptoms of Gulf War syndrome and those suffered by farmers working with sheepdip containing organophosphates. "There is clearly an overlap between the symptoms suffered by these sheep farmers and what I have read of those suffering Gulf War syndrome," says Dr Alex Prodfoot, a poisons specialist.