British chemical weapons trial victims win apology and compensation

Other News Materials 1 February 2008 00:53 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - The British government Thursday awarded 3 million pounds (6 million dollars) compensation to volunteer servicemen who were subjected to chemical weapons trials during the Cold War era which they were made to believe were aimed at helping to develop remedies for the common cold.

The experiments in the 1950s and 1960s at the Porton Down research centre near Salisbury, in south-west England, gained worldwide notoriety when those affected by the tests claimed that they had suffered lasting damage to their physical and mental health.

The compensation awarded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will have to be carved up among some 360 men, for whom the symbolic meaning of the settlement will be greater than the amount of money they receive.

"The government sincerely apologises to those who may have been affected," defence state secretary Derek Twigg said in a written statement to parliament Thursday, which made clear that the government accepted no liability.

"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."

The ex-servicemen claim they were tricked into taking part in what they were led to believe were cold remedy tests at the research centre.

But Twigg's statement repeated the government's position that the trials were designed to ensure that Britain had the defensive capabilities to counter the "real and horrific threat" from chemical weapons.

"The security of the country rested on these trials and the contribution of those who took part in them," said the statement, adding that the trials were often conducted "under considerable pressures of time as new threats emerged."

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.

The settlement announced Thursday came after years of campaigning by the men, and followed a review of the experiments commissioned by the MoD in 2004.