Military Tells Soldier His
Own Troops May Have
Plotted To Kill Him
By Peter Worthington
Toronto Sun


Ex-warrant officer Matt Stopford has suffered since his duties in Croatia, including the loss of vision in his right eye. - Norm Betts, SUN The Canadian military thinks a soldier debilitated by mysterious ailments was not a victim of possible PCB-contaminated sandbags while peacekeeping in Croatia, but was being poisoned by his own men.
In an extraordinary letter dated Aug.4 and hand-delivered to retired Warrant Officer Matt Stopford, Brig.-Gen. Patricia Samson, the Provost Marshal of the Armed Forces, writes: "Information has recently come to light that indicates you may have been the victim of systematic ingestion of naphtha gas during your tour to Croatia in 1993."
Samson, the military's top cop, goes on to say it is "alleged," and that the allegations "have some credence," that "minute amounts ... of naphtha gas were covertly put into your coffee on a regular basis by other servicemen over an extended period of time ... the majority of your time in theatre."
She urges: "I implore you not to make this information public at this time," because a "criminal investigation" is being "vigorously" pursued.
Stopford, living alone in Peterborough, says the letter, delivered by Capt. Vince Mancini, Operations Officer of the National Investigation Service (CFNIS), told him it was considered too sensitive for the mail or phone and that as well as naphtha gas in his coffee, battery acid was probably put in his food.
Stopford says: "He seemed surprised at the contents of the letter, and when I said I didn't believe it, he said: 'I thought you'd say that.'"
Mancini then asked what Stopford knew of the memorandum removed from soldiers files to the effect that they had possibly been exposed to bauxite-filled sandbags contaminated by PCBs.
Stopford, once a super-fit soldier with no history of malingering or medical problems, is a physical wreck following duty in Croatia. His stomach is a mess, he bleeds from the rectum, his bones and joints constantly ache, he's gone blind in his right eye, and has difficulty breathing. Some days are worse than others, but all are bad.
This, in a soldier who played on the army's national soccer team and who recalls, "I could run 20Ks without breathing hard."
One veteran of Croatia, who asked not to be identified because he fears military retaliation, said: "It's inconceivable that his troops would try to harm Stopford -- he was well-respected by subordinates, by his peers and by his superiors. An excellent soldier, and a fine man."
Retired Col. Michel Drapeau, former director-general of DND's Executive Secretariat, says in 34 years in the military he's never seen anything like this. "It's incredible, the letter maligns Stopford as a leader and soldier by suggesting his men tried to 'frag' (kill) him," he says. "The letter is also an indictment against the soldiers of his platoon. It is simply astonishing that the Provost Marshal would make such allegations in a letter while a criminal investigation is under way in what's a case of attempted murder."
In her letter, Samson urges Stopford to tell his doctor about possibly being poisoned, while "imploring" him not to go public.
"I've thought about the letter, which really upsets me," says Stopford. "It is so totally ludicrous that I decided to go public. I've spoken to other guys in my platoon -- a lot of them are sick since Croatia -- and they say they haven't been contacted by the NIS investigators."
One would think they'd have been contacted before telling Stopford his men had tried to poison him.
"In Croatia, Stopford's leadership was saving lives, not risking them," one soldier said, unwilling to be identified.
(As an aside, I've never known the Canadian military so fearful of reprisals from above if they speak up -- in itself revealing.)
"I know my men, the guys I served with, and if anyone was out to get me, I'd have known it," says Stopford. "Besides, how could you drink coffee with gasoline in it and not know? Gasoline floats on water. As for battery acid in my food -- it makes no sense."
Scott Taylor, publisher of the military magazine Esprit de Corps and co-author of the book Tested Mettle, which first exposed the possibility of Stopford and other soldiers being exposed to PCB-contaminated soil and bauxite in sandbags in Croatia, says he was told yesterday that "the whole 13th floor of DND (the executive floor) was in a flap over this letter whose contents they weren't talking about."
Stopford commanded a platoon of the Princess Pats in Croatia involved with filling sandbags with possibly PCB-contaminated bauxite. A memo put in every soldier's file by medical officer (Navy) Lieut. Eric Smith to this effect was mysteriously removed from files.
"Someone shoved a copy of the memo under my door when I was a platoon commander in Calgary," says Stopford. "I checked with my platoon and they'd all signed the memo, which had disappeared from their files. So I made photocopies and gave them to the soldiers, and told them to hold on to them and not put them in their files."
Stopford was commended for his leadership in Croatia -- one of the cool heroes of fighting in the Medak pocket against invading Croatian military. Ironically, he saved lives rather than put troops at greater risk.
He feels he can no longer trust the army. "I'm fighting Veterans Affairs for a disability pension, and I don't trust army doctors who just gave me medications and said my sickness was all in my head. My civilian doctor took me off medication, and I'm now seeing specialists -- a toxicologist, neurologist, psychologist, rheumatologist, stomach doctor and the like."
As for his own troops trying to poison him, he thinks the army is trying to absolve itself from responsibility for Croatia. "I think they were hoping I'd snap -- lose it and go off the deep end. Otherwise why would they tell me before they had fully investigated the case?"
Commented one officer: "They're saying, in effect, that Matt was such a son of a bitch his men wanted to kill him."
Stopford lives on only his army pension, yet has the same spirit of independence and personal pride he had as a soldier: "To say I'm disappointed in the army puts it mildly. Instead of sending a doctor or someone to help, they send a cop who says my own people were trying to kill me. That's hard to swallow."
Stopford is expected to hold a press conference in Ottawa today concerning the Provost Marshal's extraordinary letter.
Brig.-Gen. Patricia Samson was unavailable for comment.