PORTON DOWN AND SECRET EXPERIMENTS
Top Secret Base Injected Dying Patients With Killer Viruses
The police are to investigate gruesome allegations that military scientists
at a top secret Ministry of Defence research facility used old and sick
people as guinea pigs in germ warfare experiments. Porton Down is already
at the centre of another police investigation - Operation Antler - which
concerns the duping of servicemen with the deadly sarin and tabun nerve
gas, mustard gas, CS and CR riot gas, LSD and another mind-binding drug
believed to be known as BZ. According to intelligence sources, more than
400 complaints and allegations have been made from surviving servicemen
and women covering a period of time from the 1950s right up to 1989.
The new allegations may strengthen the belief that there has been a major
cover-up by the British Government and intelligence services.
Catholic priest Monsignor John Barry raised the matter almost 30 years
ago with ministers. He said that it was his belief that unlawful killings
were taking place. Indeed, journalists from the Daily Express who have
single-handedly championed the cause of many of the victims, believe that
they now have new evidence of the experiments which allegedly took place
between 1964 and 1966. According to their sources, scientists tested a
secret killer virus known more commonly today as a biological warfare
agent on dying leukemia patients in an NHS hospital. Dolores McMahon,
a microbiologist and a junior member of the team who was not involved
in decision making, denied there was anything unethical or irregular about
the lengthy experiment with Kyasanur Forest Monkey Disease on 33 patients
at St. Thomas Hospital, London. She said that ethics had now changed
and added: Of course, you have to remember in those days everyone
with leukemia died anyway.
The allegations are not that easily dismissed however, and tough detectives
from Operation Antler are determined to get to the truth. Faced with a
huge catalogue of illegal experiments, they have now learned
of the new evidence. The information implies that the dying patients -
many suffering from dementia - were without relatives who could and almost
certainly would have protected them from MOD scientists.
What is clear is that a major breakdown of communication happened, for
the Monsignors claims were passed to the then Liberal Party leader,
Sir David Steel. The material referred to as official documents
was originally handed to the priest in 1970 by conscience-stricken members
of his congregation in Scotland. He then chose to reveal the information
in a speech to the Edinburgh Business Club in January of that year. I
have seen the evidence which I think is genuine, he said. There
is a certain section of the Ministry of Defence which uses elderly people
as guinea pigs for experiments and quietly puts them to death afterwards.
It is all carefully hidden by the Official Secrets Act.
Such an allegation if made today would have serious implications, but
Monsignor simply gave the papers to Mr Steel. He then apparently held
a meeting with Dennis Healey, who was then Defence Minister for Harold
Wilsons Labour Government. The file was given to Healey.
The short-lived scandal fizzled-out following a speech by Prime Minister
Wilson. He said the matter had been fully investigated, though
he didnt say who by. Furthermore, he never mentioned what if any
conclusions had been reached by this authority.
One campaigner who has tried for many years to uncover the truth regarding
the service personnel experiments is Liz Sigmund. When she learned of
Barrys claims, she believed there had indeed been a cover-up. Interestingly,
she gave journalists from the Express two letters from the Monsignor in
which he writes: I believed and still believe the reports I received.
He wouldnt divulge the source of his information however, because
he thought they would suffer personal repercussions.
Sigmund also has in her possession a letter from David Steels personal
assistant who says she will look for a copy of the documents he supposedly
was handed in 1970.
David Steel, now Lord Steel, is Speaker of the newly founded Scottish
Parliament. His assistant told journalists: He has no recollection
whatsoever of this case and his records do not go back that far.
Lord Healeys secretary said something similar: He doesnt
know about it. He cant remember it.
Ms Sigmund had several conversations with Monsignor Barry in the 1970s.
She recalls how he told her one patient was suffering from dementia and
had no relatives. She says: There was a statement from Harold Wilson
in the House which virtually dismissed the allegations out of hand but
we live in different times now.
We now know that some 20,000 servicemen were duped into volunteering
for research into the common cold and then used in the most horrendous
experiments with nerve gas and all sorts of things.
We know that 40 people were injected with the biological warfare
agent Kyasanur Forest Monkey (KFM) disease in 1968. That was apparently
done to see if it was of any therapeutic value to leukemia patients. KFM
disease has a 28 per cent fatality rate and causes horribly painful encephalitis
Why was Porton Down involved in this search for a leukemia therapy
in a NHS cancer ward? It is a coincidence that just three years later
KFM became a recognised biological warfare agent? Did Porton Down want
to examine the pathology of a biological warfare bug as it acts on humans?
An MOD spokeswoman said: These are not things we could respond to
quickly because it would take some time to research records from that
The police meanwhile will not be put off so easily. Officers working on
Operation Antler are believed to be drawing up plans that will undoubtedly
cause ripples in the MOD. According to security sources, they are preparing
to arrest and question MOD scientists on charges of assault, wounding
and the administration of poison. The move could yet see many senior players
in Government and Whitehall running for cover. And there may also be further
trouble ahead for Porton Down regarding the death of a soldier in 1954.
If the police move to re-open the inquest into the strange death of Private
Ronald Maddison, 20, who died when Sarin nerve gas was ridiculously administered
to him at Porton Down. The police are examining evidence that the Coroner
was lied to. If this is the case, pressure on the research facility to
open its files will become enormous.
The moves to reopen the Maddison file implies the Wiltshire-based police
team believe the misadventure verdict of the original inquest,
held in secret in 1953 was wrong. Alan Care of the solicitors Russel Jones
and Walker acting on behalf of the Maddison family said: The only
reason I can see to reopen this inquest is for the coroner and jury to
consider an unlawful killing verdict. I cannot envisage anything more
serious for the MOD who ran Porton Down for many years.
Maddison was part of a series of tests involving some 400 other men. Scientists
tried to establish the amount of nerve gas which when applied to clothes
or the bare skin would cause incapacitation or death. The experiment went
badly wrong after the liquid was deliberately dripped on to Mr Maddisons
arm by a Porton Down scientist in a gas chamber. He died 40 minutes later.
What followed is now regarded as a major cover-up by the MOD. Ten days
after the soldiers death, an inquest was held behind closed doors
in the interests of national security. Only MOD officials
and Mr Maddisons father were allowed to attend. Incredibly, he too
was sworn to secrecy and for years never told anyone what he had heard.
Porton Down have admitted the government hushed up details
because it wanted to hide from the public the extent of human experiments
and work on nerve gas during the cold war.
Furthermore, there are fresh calls to find out just who the authority
was that investigated the original 1970s claims. Harold Wilson confidently
explained that all the allegations were nonsense and had been investigated.
Journalists and pressure groups are demanding to know: Did Porton Down
actually investigate itself, or was it a government agency? Some analysts
believe Harold Wilson was given inaccurate information, whilst others
believe a cover-up of some magnitude has occurred.
Liz Sigmund said: The question is who investigated them and what
did they find? I think it is fair to say that there is no faith in the
Ministry of Defence investigating their own misdeeds if that is what actually
We dont even know where these terrible allegations took place.
I spoke to John Barry on the telephone in the seventies and asked him
where it had happened. I asked Was it at Porton or at the base in
Nancekuke in Cornwall? He said that it wasnt either of those places
but another establishment somewhere in the South East. He intimated that
it had happened to people suffering from dementia who had no families.
If that is true, then it is too horrible to contemplate.
Another twist to the Porton Down affair is contained in the recently released
book Inside Outside by controversial MP Tam Dalyell. The autobiography
contains an entire chapter on the base. He was admonished by the Speaker
of the House of Commons for wearing a black tricorn hat, for events surrounding
his campaign which exposed the work of Porton Down. The MP who has long
believed in a Freedom of Information Act said: For years I believed
the MOD stitched me up over Porton Down in revenge for other issues I
had embarrassed them about. But now its dawning on me that they
did it because they were desperate to keep me away from the subject of
Porton Down. They wanted to make the subject a no-go zone.
Fearing the outcome of the Operation Antler, the MOD announced on 21 November
that they will launch clinical trials on the volunteers to see if their
health was damaged. The Government is also on the backfoot. A minister
has finally acknowledged that victims of the secret experiments it carried
out on over 20,000 human guinea pigs will be offered full
examinations to see if the experiments are responsible for an array
of illnesses. The MOD has also admitted that up to 4,000 servicemen were
subjected to nerve agent experiments, almost a third more than previously
claimed. But an MOD official has reiterated that they have seen no
scientific or medical evidence linking the health of veterans to
their participation in nuclear tests or the Gulf War.
Some analysts believe that it will take years to establish the truth,
but that is all that matters to the relatives, who simply want justice.
Alan Care, lawyer for the Porton Down volunteers, said the MODs
new assessment programme was insufficient. He demanded a full
o According to sources, the tests will by conducted by doctors at St.
Thomas Hospital in London. The same facility who checked Gulf War
veterans. It is also our understanding that meetings between Porton Down
management, defence ministers and the security services have taken place
on a regular basis to discuss the implementation of a damage limitation