Saturday, August 28, 2004

Human Nerve Gas Tests Continued Even After Ban

Porton Down Continued Nerve Gas Testing on Human Guinea Pigs Even After Ban
London Guardian | August 27 2004

Military scientists carried on testing nerve gas on servicemen even though a government minister had imposed a complete ban on such experiments, an inquest heard yesterday.
The tests that broke the ban were conducted in a mobile gas chamber at the Porton Down chemical warfare research establishment in Wiltshire. Porton Down scientists usually tested human "guinea pigs" in permanent fixed chambers in its buildings in the establishment.
The inquest is examining the death of Ronald Maddison, a 20-year-old airman, 51 years ago during the cold war, after scientists intentionally applied liquid nerve gas to his arm in an experiment.
The hearing was told that on May 7 1953, the day after Mr Maddison's death, Duncan Sandys, the minister responsible for Porton Down, sent a secret memo to then prime minister Winston Churchill. Mr Sandys wrote: "Pending the results of our own court of inquiry, I have given instructions that further tests on human beings with nerve gas should be temporarily suspended."
The following day, a senior Whitehall official informed Porton Down of the ban, "which will remain in force until fresh instructions are given" by a minister. Later that day Stanley Mumford, the head of Porton Down, told Dr Harry Cullumbine, the scientist in charge of the department carrying out the human experiments, about the ban. He wrote: "Will you ensure that this instruction is strictly complied with?"
The Wiltshire coroner, David Masters, read extracts from a series of official documents that showed the ban was not lifted by Mr Sandys until August 20 1953.
However other documents read out by Mr Masters revealed that servicemen were tested with nerve gas on three days in 1953 when the ban was still in force. On July 13, six servicemen were exposed to sarin nerve gas in what surviving records call a "mobile chamber". A week later the experiment was repeated with 13 men from the army. On August 11 a further set of servicemen was sent into the chamber, which was filled with sarin.
The inquest heard that Porton Down scientists had started to look at using a mobile chamber on May 10, four days after Maddison's death.
Dr Paul Rice, a senior serving Porton scientist, had written to government lawyers before the inquest began in May: "It is clear from chamber records that between May 10 and May 28, work was under way to assess ... aspects of maintaining an atmosphere of [sarin nerve gas] vapour in the mobile chamber."
Gerwyn Samuel, a barrister representing the Maddison family, asked Dr Alex Proudfoot, an independent expert toxicologist, if he was "astounded" that Porton Down scientists, "reeling" from Maddison's death a few days before, had commissioned a mobile chamber when they had three permanent chambers already at Porton Down.
Dr Proudfoot replied: "The experiment ought to have been stopped. I do not think I can condone it." He added that the reaction of the scientists seemed "irresponsible".
He also said: "I accept that the ban ought not to have been violated. Why it was violated I do not know."
The inquest, due to end in late October, was reopened this year after pressure from campaigners and Mr Maddison's family. The original inquest in 1953 returned a verdict of death by misadventure after it had been held in secret on the orders of the government.
More than 3,000 men from the armed forces were exposed to nerve gas by Porton Down scientists between the end of the second world war and 1989. Data from the tests was used to develop nerve gas weapons and protection in case of a chemical attack by the Soviet Union.