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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 18:19 GMT
Tests for chemical warfare 'guinea pigs'

Porton Down has often been at the centre of controversy
Volunteers who took part in experiments at a secret chemical warfare laboratory will be assessed to see if they were harmed, the government has announced.

Some servicemen say they became ill after acting as human "guinea pigs" in trials at Porton Down, which first took place in 1916 and continued for decades.

The Ministry of Defence says there is no evidence to link their illnesses with their experiences at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment in Wiltshire.

But Defence minister Dr Lewis Moonie said the government took the claims "seriously" and has offered a series of measures aimed at helping the volunteers.

MoD has no scientific evidence to support that belief but we take such suggestions seriously

Defence minister Dr Lewis Moonie

The move follows separate allegations being investigated by police, that elderly people suffering from dementia were also used as guinea pigs in germ warfare experiments at the laboratory.

The MoD has consistently denied the claims.

'No scientific evidence'

Up to 20,000 soldiers were duped into "volunteering" for trials that could involve experiments with nerve gas, mustard gas and LSD, it is claimed.

Dr Moonie said volunteers would be able to take part in a medical assessment programme.

The MoD has also taken independent advice on creating a study to see if servicemen who did not take part in the tests fell prey to the same illnesses, he announced in a written answer to MPs.

A team will be set up to deal with volunteers' health concerns and they would be dealt with openly, Dr Moonie said.

"Suggestions have been made that some Porton Down volunteers suffer unusual patterns of ill health because of their participation in trials," he said.

"MoD has no scientific evidence to support that belief but we take such suggestions seriously, hence the package of measures announced today."

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