- The Ministry of Defence turned large parts of
the country into a giant laboratory to conduct a series of secret
germ warfare tests on the public.
- A government report just released provides for
the first time a comprehensive official history of Britain's
biological weapons trials between 1940 and 1979.
- Many of these tests involved releasing
potentially dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms over vast swaths
of the population without the public being told.
- While details of some secret trials have emerged
in recent years, the 60-page report reveals new information about
more than 100 covert experiments.
- The report reveals that military personnel were
briefed to tell any 'inquisitive inquirer' the trials were part of
research projects into weather and air pollution.
- The tests, carried out by government scientists
at Porton Down, were designed to help the MoD assess Britain's
vulnerability if the Russians were to have released clouds of deadly
germs over the country.
- In most cases, the trials did not use biological
weapons but alternatives which scientists believed would mimic germ
warfare and which the MoD claimed were harmless. But families in
certain areas of the country who have children with birth defects
are demanding a public inquiry.
- One chapter of the report, 'The Fluorescent
Particle Trials', reveals how between 1955 and 1963 planes flew from
north-east England to the tip of Cornwall along the south and west
coasts, dropping huge amounts of zinc cadmium sulphide on the
population. The chemical drifted miles inland, its fluorescence
allowing the spread to be monitored. In another trial using zinc
cadmium sulphide, a generator was towed along a road near Frome in
Somerset where it spewed the chemical for an hour.
- While the Government has insisted the chemical
is safe, cadmium is recognised as a cause of lung cancer and during
the Second World War was considered by the Allies as a chemical
- In another chapter, 'Large Area Coverage
Trials', the MoD describes how between 1961 and 1968 more than a
million people along the south coast of England, from Torquay to the
New Forest, were exposed to bacteria including e.coli and bacillus
globigii , which mimics anthrax. These releases came from a military
ship, the Icewhale, anchored off the Dorset coast, which sprayed the
micro-organisms in a five to 10-mile radius.
- The report also reveals details of the DICE
trials in south Dorset between 1971 and 1975. These involved US and
UK military scientists spraying into the air massive quantities of
serratia marcescens bacteria, with an anthrax simulant and phenol.
- Similar bacteria were released in 'The Sabotage
Trials' between 1952 and 1964. These were tests to determine the
vulnerability of large government buildings and public transport to
attack. In 1956 bacteria were released on the London Underground at
lunchtime along the Northern Line between Colliers Wood and Tooting
Broadway. The results show that the organism dispersed about 10
miles. Similar tests were conducted in tunnels running under
government buildings in Whitehall.
- Experiments conducted between 1964 and 1973
involved attaching germs to the threads of spiders' webs in boxes to
test how the germs would survive in different environments. These
tests were carried out in a dozen locations across the country,
including London's West End, Southampton and Swindon. The report
also gives details of more than a dozen smaller field trials between
1968 and 1977.
- In recent years, the MoD has commissioned two
scientists to review the safety of these tests. Both reported that
there was no risk to public health, although one suggested the
elderly or people suffering from breathing illnesses may have been
seriously harmed if they inhaled sufficient quantities of
- However, some families in areas which bore the
brunt of the secret tests are convinced the experiments have led to
their children suffering birth defects, physical handicaps and
- David Orman, an army officer from Bournemouth,
is demanding a public inquiry. His wife, Janette, was born in East
Lulworth in Dorset, close to where many of the trials took place.
She had a miscarriage, then gave birth to a son with cerebral palsy.
Janette's three sisters, also born in the village while the tests
were being carried out, have also given birth to children with
unexplained problems, as have a number of their neighbours.
- The local health authority has denied there is a
cluster, but Orman believes otherwise. He said: 'I am convinced
something terrible has happened. The village was a close-knit
community and to have so many birth defects over such a short space
of time has to be more than coincidence.'
- Successive governments have tried to keep
details of the germ warfare tests secret. While reports of a number
of the trials have emerged over the years through the Public Records
Office, this latest MoD document - which was released to Liberal
Democrat MP Norman Baker - gives the fullest official version of the
biological warfare trials yet.
- Baker said: 'I welcome the fact that the
Government has finally released this information, but question why
it has taken so long. It is unacceptable that the public were
treated as guinea pigs without their knowledge, and I want to be
sure that the Ministry of Defence's claims that these chemicals and
bacteria used were safe is true.'
- The MoD report traces the history of the UK's
research into germ warfare since the Second World War when Porton
Down produced five million cattle cakes filled with deadly anthrax
spores which would have been dropped in Germany to kill their
livestock. It also gives details of the infamous anthrax experiments
on Gruinard on the Scottish coast which left the island so
contaminated it could not be inhabited until the late 1980s.
- The report also confirms the use of anthrax and
other deadly germs on tests aboard ships in the Caribbean and off
the Scottish coast during the 1950s. The document states: 'Tacit
approval for simulant trials where the public might be exposed was
strongly influenced by defence security considerations aimed
obviously at restricting public knowledge. An important corollary to
this was the need to avoid public alarm and disquiet about the
vulnerability of the civil population to BW [biological warfare]
- Sue Ellison, spokeswoman for Porton Down, said:
'Independent reports by eminent scientists have shown there was no
danger to public health from these releases which were carried out
to protect the public.
- 'The results from these trials_ will save lives,
should the country or our forces face an attack by chemical and
- Asked whether such tests are still being carried
out, she said: 'It is not our policy to discuss ongoing research.'
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