Gulf troops given secret injections

British troops in the Gulf War were given secret, still unidentified injections against biological warfare agents. Yet MPs were subsequently assured that all those administered had been disclosed.

The Independent has learnt that "five or six" injections were given which the Ministry of Defence has still not acknowledged. Campaigners fighting for Gulf War illness to be recognised fear some of the injections may have been experimental.

The injections were not recorded on the troops' medical documents and the Royal Air Force medical expert appointed to investigate the "illness" - who has since been moved to other duties - was unaware of them.

Two weeks ago, Nicholas Soames, the Armed Forces Minister, told Parliament he was launching a pounds 1.3m programme to find out the cause of the mysterious ailments which have affected 1,200 Gulf veterans. It is believed the illnesses may have been caused by exposure to organophosphate pesticides, by tablets taken as a precaution against chemical weapons, by the cocktail of injections against biological warfare agents given in a short period of time, or by a combination of those factors.

Mr Soames admitted the MoD misinformed him on the extent to which organophosphates were used, and has launched an inquiry into how that happened. He disclosed that troops had been inoculated against four known biological warfare agents: anthrax, pertussis, bubonic plague and botulinum toxin.

But in a private session of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence, a Labour MP asked the Surgeon-General, Vice-Admiral Tony Revell, how many vaccinations the MoD did not admit to. He replied that the number was about five or six. The vaccinations against plague, anthrax, pertussis and botulinum toxin had already been discussed. Lawyers for the Gulf veterans believe the "five or six" secret vaccinations were in addition to the four already discussed.

Dr David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, last night told The Independent: "I find this appalling. The Government must now come completely clean about what went on and ought to step up its efforts to find out what happened to these men and women. All drugs used in the Gulf ought to be declassified." Dr Clark has written to Mr Soames asking for an explanation.

Question marks over the MoD line arose after inquiries by Shaun Rusling, 37, a former medic with 32 Field Ambulance who was based at the main hospital intended to handle chemical and biological casualties in Wadi al-Batin, about 10 miles from the Iraqi border.

He is suffering a form of Gulf War illness and is no longer fit to work. He received a letter dated 12 November from a Brigadier McDermott of the Army's medical directorate saying some of the injections he had been given were classified secret and were therefore not recorded. However, the use of plague, anthrax and pertussis vaccines was widely known - it was reported in the press at the time - and had been declassified before the brigadier wrote his letter. The secret vaccines were something else.

Mr Rusling's solicitors contacted Group Captain Bill Coker, the RAF doctor initially given the task of investigating Gulf War illness. He said he knew of no vaccines that had not been declared, or which were classified secret. He knew about the plague, anthrax and pertussis vaccines and said that if there were any others he wanted to know about them. He has been transferred to other work, but the House of Commons defence committee has put it on record that it wants to carry on using his expertise.

Mr Rusling said that because he was a medic he received more injections than ordinary troops. Most received about a dozen; he says he had 24.

Kirsten Limb, a scientist working with solicitors representing some of the Gulf veterans, said a number of veterans reported having blood samples taken after they received injections described only as "biological warfare" and were told the samples were being sent to Porton Down, the Government's biological and chemical defence establishment, for analysis.

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