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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 17:15 GMT
Nerve gas inquest to be re-opened
Porton Down
Police have investigated the deaths of 70 servicemen
The High Court has given the go-ahead for a new inquest into the death of a young serviceman during nerve gas trials at Porton Down research centre 50 years ago.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, sitting with another judge in London, took the "exceptional" course of quashing the original misadventure verdict on Ronald Maddison and ordering a new hearing.

Lord Woolf said he was satisfied that "justice requires that these matters are properly investigated" at a fresh inquest.

Ronald Maddison was 20 when he took part in what he allegedly thought was an experiment to find a cure for the common cold in May 1953.

Deadly agent

The leading aircraftsman died minutes later and the original inquest - held in private for "reasons of national security" - ruled he died of asphyxia.

But his fellow servicemen claim he had been exposed to the deadly nerve agent Sarin at the government's chemical and biological warfare centre in Wiltshire.

The call for an inquiry into the death of Mr Maddison, originally from Consett, County Durham, was brought by Wiltshire coroner David Masters, supported by the Attorney General.

Ronald Maddison
Ronald Maddison died during tests at Porton

During the hearing, Mr Ian Burnett QC, for the Wiltshire coroner, said Mr Maddison "died in the course of an experiment being conducted at Porton Down into the effects of Sarin, a well-known nerve agent, on human beings".

He said 200mgs of liquid Sarin was introduced on to a double layer of uniform clothing which had been secured to Mr Maddison's left arm causing a "severe adverse reaction".

Mr Burnett said: "It was introduced on to his arm at 17 minutes past ten, by 10.40 he was suffering an adverse reaction and he collapsed, lost consciousness and despite very substantial efforts to revive him he died shortly thereafter."

He said there had been a "great deal of public disquiet about experiments conducted at Porton Down over a protracted period".

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, and Mrs Justice Hallett decided a fresh inquest would be in the public interest.

Porton Down
Porton Down in Wiltshire - home to a chemical warfare research centre

News of the inquest follows years of campaigning by former servicemen who claim some of their colleagues died after being exposed to nerve agents at Porton Down, near Salisbury.

The Father of the House of Commons, Labour MP Tam Dalyell, who has been campaigning on the issue of testing at the site since 1967, welcomed the news.

He said: "I think this is a very serious decision by the High Court and I thoroughly welcome it.

"There is considerable point in having a serious re-opening of this case because never again must the authorities think they can get away with any such treatment of servicemen.

"Ronald Maddison thought he was part of an experiment to find a cure for the common cold.

"He was offered 14 days' leave and 15 was put in his pocket, he was injected and he died."

Historic moment

After the ruling, Mr Maddison's sister Lillias Craik, 68, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, said: "We are very pleased, thrilled to bits.

"We just hope that now we will get to know the truth and nothing but the truth."

The family's solicitor, Alan Care, speaking outside court, said: "It is an historic moment for the Maddison family, and also legally."

A new inquest, with a jury, is expected to take place lasting six to eight weeks.

Lawyers for the Ministry of Defence did not oppose the move to quash the original verdict.


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See also:

29 Jul 02 | England
17 Jul 02 | England
22 Apr 02 | England
30 Jul 01 | UK
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