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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK
Porton Down scientists 'broke law'
Porton Down
20,000 volunteers were involved in weapons trials
Wiltshire police say they have "clear evidence" that Ministry of Defence scientists broke the law during chemical weapons tests at Porton Down.

In a letter seen by the BBC, the chief investigating officer Detective Superintendent Jerry Luckett, said that papers were being passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

But the CPS says it could be "some time" before a decision is taken about whether to bring charges against those involved.

They put us in the gas chambers...I had no idea what they were doing

Alleged victim Gordon Bell

Dozens of volunteers, exposed to nerve gas and other chemical and biological agents, said they had believed they were helping find a cure for the common cold.

Many say they are now ill as a result of the weapons trial at the defence establishment on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

In his letter last month to Gordon Bell - one of the alleged victims - DS Luckett said that it was apparent that a criminal offence, contrary to the Offences Against the Person Act, had been committed.

'Deceit used'

And DS Luckett, who is heading the police inquiry, said that officers had also found "clear evidence" that deceit was used in getting volunteers to Porton Down.

He confirmed that papers were to be sent to the CPS in at least one case.

But a CPS spokeswoman said that even after the complete file on the case had been received, a decision on whether to prosecute the scientists would not be made quickly.

It was a "difficult and complicated matter", and the CPS would probably want to take counsel's advice, she said.

About 20,000 so-called human guinea pigs went to Porton Down between 1939 and the 1960s.
Porton Down
Scientists worked on an improved anthrax vaccine in the 1960s

Mr Bell, who was an airman at Porton Down in the 1950s, said he thought he was volunteering for common cold research.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They put us in the gas chambers. We tested CS gas, some of these tests are horrendous.

"I had no idea what they were doing - as far as I was concerned they were doing common cold research tests."

Mr Bell claimed that substances being tested for chemical weapons were dripped on his bare skin.

He said he still does not know what these substances were and now suffers from skin problems.

The police investigation has been running for two years amid growing speculation that criminal charges will be brought.

The police have already revealed they have found an unusually high death rate among the volunteers.

Medical help offered

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says it is carrying out its own research into the matter.

Defence minister Dr Lewis Moonie told the BBC: "At present we are conducting a great deal of work on this subject to try to identify what went on.

"We are also offering medical help and assistance to anybody who feels they need it.

"They are welcome to contact our people."

Only last month the government announced it was launching a full inquiry into the health of 20,000 volunteers involved in the biological and chemical weapons trials at Porton Down.

This two-year scientific study will examine the death rates of volunteers at the chemical and biological warfare research centre since 1939.
Porton Down
Over 3,000 volunteers have undergone tests at the centre since the 40s

And there will be more detailed scrutiny of those exposed to the most dangerous substances.

The MoD's chemical and biological weapons research centre has tested 3,000 service personnel in human volunteer experiments since 1945.

More than 300 ex-servicemen claim to have suffered disabilities ranging from breathing difficulties to kidney complaints as a result of tests carried out at the centre.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Police files on the case will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service"
Ken Eale , Porton Down survivor
"I'm lucky to be alive"
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