Police launch probe into gas guinea pigs
Agence France-Presse and Australian Associated Press
August 21, 1999
LONDON: British police have begun investgating the dealth of a soldier
at a government germ warfare centre nearly 50 years ago, amid new claims
that deadly nerve gas was tested on unwitting volunteers.
Detectives confirmed they were looking at using Britain's Offences
Against the Person Act to press charges of assault, corporate
manslaughter and administering noxious substances.
The inquiry was prompted by a former soldier's claims the his health was
ruined by tests at Porton Down Chemical and Biological Defence
Establishment at Wiltshire, western England.
Gordon Bell, 61, said we welcomed the police decision to investigate his
allegations about the testing program.
He claimed soldiers on national service in the 1950s were not told of
the true nature of the tests carried out with gas and chemicals.
Mr Bell said fellow Royal Air Force serviceman Ronald Maddison died in
May 1953 when a nerve agent was dripped on to material taped to his arm.
Mr Maddison was 20 when he signed up to help in chemical research at the
British army's leading research facility at Porton Down. He was paid
less than five cents for taking part.
Seeking to find out how quickly the Sarin compound would seep through
clothes, researchers dripped just 200 milligrams on to a piece of cloth
which was then strapped to Mr Madison's arm. Mr Bell said his colleague
died in agony minutes later.
Six years later, Mr Bell also was given injections and subjected to gas
about which he was never properly told at the time.
The Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, a department of the Ministry
of Defence, which operates Porton Down, said it would fully cooperate
with the police investigation.
Mr Bell, who now lives in Canada, was present for tests on three
occasions between 1959 and 1960.
He said: "what they will find is hard to say because I believe a lot of
the evidence bas been covered up.
"Take my case. I took part in tests at Porton Down three times but they
only have records of the last occasion in August 1960.
"I took injections in a hospital ward and was given gases, which we were
told were harmless. But I was also given other gases for which there
are now no records."
Mr Bell said he had had skin problems since the tests.
Det-Supt Gerry Luckett, who is leading the police team, declined to
elaborate on the scope of the inquiry but promised it would be full and
He said his team had already had talks with the Ministry of Defence and
expected its full cooperation in the investigation, which he suggested
would be long.
In a statement, the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency said: "We are
more than willing to make available to police our archives inherited
from that period."