MOD’s Porton Down And Secret Experiments
Priest Claims 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 1950’s 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 Monsignor’s 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 Wilson’s 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 didn’t 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 Barry’s 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 wouldn’t 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 Steel’s 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 Healey’s secretary said something similar: “He doesn’t know about it. He can’t remember it.”
Ms Sigmund had several conversations with Monsignor Barry in the 1970’s. 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 in humans.
“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 period.”
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 Maddison’s 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 soldier’s death, an inquest was held behind closed doors “in the interests of national security.” Only MOD officials and Mr Maddison’s 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 1970’s 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 happened.
“We don’t 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 wasn’t 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 it’s 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 MOD’s new assessment programme was “insufficient.” He demanded a “full independent inquiry.”
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 programme.
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