THE Ministry of Defence yesterday awarded £3m in compensation to Porton Down veterans for tests undertaken during the Cold War.
Royal Air Force mechanic Ronald Maddison, from County Durham, died in 1953 after taking part in tests at the Wiltshire laboratory.
The Government yesterday offered an apology to those affected, admitting that their health “may have been put at risk”.
Porton Down was established in 1916 to test chemical and biological weapons. Nerve gases such as Sarin and CS gas were tested on volunteer servicemen, who were offered money and extra leave as an incentive.
But few knew what they were volunteering for and some – including Consett man Mr Maddison – were told it was for cold remedy tests.
Yesterday, in a written statement to MPs, Defence Minister Derek Twigg said the compensation sum was “in full and final settlement” of claims and without admission of liability by the Ministry of Defence.
“The Government accepts that there were aspects of the trials where there may have been shortcomings and where, in particular, the life or health of participants may have been put at risk,” he added.
“I would like to sincerely apologise to those affected, on behalf of the Government.”
Yesterday’s settlement comes after years of campaigning by the men, many of whom say the tests caused lasting damage to their physical and mental health. It is understood the money will be shared equally among 360 veterans and their widows – which would amount to more than £8,300 each.
Ken Earl, 74, a survivor and founder of the 536-member Porton Down Veterans’ Support Group, said: “I am pleased that at long last there has been a settlement. I was at Porton Down in 1953 with Ronald Maddison. I was in the same test as him and haven’t been well all my life and believe it damaged my nervous and immune system. What they put on my skin was the most deadly compound ever manufactured by man – sarin nerve gas – which is now described as a weapon of mass destruction.”
The MoD commissioned a review of the experiments after a 2004 inquest ruled that Mr Maddison, who was 20, had been unlawfully killed.
He volunteered to take part in what he believed to be a test for a cold cure, but was dead within an hour of having sarin dabbed on his arm at the centre – known as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.
The MoD paid £100,000 in compensation to Mr Maddison’s family after mounting an unsuccessful legal challenge against the inquest. The review, led by independent assessor Prof Sir Ian Kennedy, concluded that some trials at the centre from the 1940s to the 1970s involved “serious departures” from the ethical standards that should have been observed.
But his concerns related to only a few of the thousands of tests conducted there between 1939 and 1989. There was “no evidence to justify a conclusion that the conduct of the trials at any point went beyond the limits of what should ever be contemplated, far less tolerated, in a civilised society,” he said.