|British Government pays £100,000 over Nerve Gas Death
InformationLiberation | June 1, 2006
The family of an ex-RAF pilot who died in 1950s nerve gas experiments at Porton Down military research centre won £100,000 in compensation from the government last week.
Twenty year-old Ronald Maddison died in 1953 after liquid sarin was dripped onto his arm in cold war-era chemical weapons experiments. For more than 50 years Mr Maddison's family have pressed the Ministry of Defence to apologise and account for his death. The settlement comes as the MoD accepts "gross negligence" on its part.
However Maddison's sister Lilias Craik told the BBC that she was pleased the battle fo justice was finally over but said that she would not forget the tragedy so easily.
"It is a great relief. I am still angry at what happened, but I am pleased it is over. I can't forget what they did and I can't forgive them. "The compensation will not make us rich but it does bring this to an end. They took his life and should be made to pay for it."
Little information surrounding the experiments in which Mr Maddison took part were disclosed following his death, being attributed to 'accidental death' through asphyxia; the government refused to answer questions on the young airman's case for forty years.
However, half a century later, new evidence came to light that prompted Wiltshire police to investigate further, reopening the inquest in 2002. In 2004 a judge ruled that Mr Maddison's death was unlawful killing.
It was found that liquid sarin was dripped onto the arm of Mr Maddison and five others after he was taken to a sealed chamber on May 6th 1953. It was twenty minutes before he was carried out of the chamber, and he died in a hospital just forty minutes after he was dosed with the nerve agent.
Mr Maddison's father was given a version of the events surrounding his son's death by the MoD, but told not to tell the rest of his family in the interests of national security. The BBC reported that all he was allowed to say publicly was that the death was "an unfortunate accident while on duty".
Ronald Maddison was ostensibly told that he was participating in research for a cure to the common cold, and that no harm would come to him.
During a hearing in 2002, ex-army ambulance driver Alfred Thornhill described how he saw Mr Maddison convulsing and foaming at the mouth after he was called to take him to the hospital.
"They just threw him onto the bed and gave him a big injection," he was quoted as sayinb by the BBC.
"It was a terrible atmosphere – they were all panicking. They couldn't handle what they were looking at."
The ruling may open the way for the claims of over 500 other ex-servicemen who took part in the experiments at Porton Down in the 1950s. Those who were used as 'human guinea pigs' for testing dangerous agents such as sarin or mustard gas, in particular, claim that they were duped into experiments that have had long-term damaging effects on their health.
Alan Care, the lawyer representing Mr Maddison case, told the Guardian that he hoped that the MoD has now developed a will to resolve "the other Porton Down claims". He told the BBC that the ruling had opened a way for them to pursue their claims through personal injury:
"They've got nowhere else to go. They've been calling for a judicial enquiry and that's always been refused. Now they can only pursue their claims for personal injury."
The experiments were conducted at Porton Down purportedly to develop defences against chemical or biological attack due to fears that the Soviet Union was developing the specialist weapons.
None of the scientists who originally took part in the experiment at Porton Down were alive at the time of the hearing, so could not be prosecuted.
The MoD said that they regretted "very much the unfortunate death of Ronald Maddison", adding that they were "extremely pleased an amicable settlement has been reached".
They made no comment on the possibility that 500 other claimants may soon seek multiple action against the department.