- 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
- 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 weapon.
- 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 micro-organisms.
- 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 learning difficulties.
- 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
- 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
- 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 biological weapons.'
- Asked whether such tests are still being carried out,
she said: 'It is not our policy to discuss ongoing research.'
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited