A 51-YEAR search for the truth about the death of a young serviceman during secret nerve-gas experiments ended yesterday when an inquest jury decided that he had been unlawfully killed by the British Government.
Ronald Maddison, 20, died in 1953 at the Porton Down research complex in Wiltshire after he and 348 other volunteers were exposed to massive doses of the sarin nerve agent during tests to establish its lethal dose.
His death resulted in one of the most enduring cover-ups of the Cold War after an initial inquest, held behind closed doors for "reasons of national security", returned a verdict of death by misadventure: it ruled that Leading Aircraftsman Maddison had died by choking. At the time, government lawyers recommended offering the dead man's relatives a pension to "dispose of the case", noting, "Least said, soonest mended".
But yesterday a jury of six men and four women, who spent 66 days hearing evidence in one of the longest post-war inquests, took less than five hours to decide LAC Maddison was killed by those in charge of the tests and, ultimately, the Ministry of Defence. The verdict will reopen the debate about the treatment of 3,400 servicemen who passed through Porton Down during the nerve gas experiments, in particular the 349 in tests to "discover the dosage of GB [sarin] which would cause incapacity or death".
Some 600 former military personnel have lodged compensation claims with lawyers amid calls for a public inquiry.
Ken Earl, spokesman for the Porton Down Veterans' Support Group, who underwent a similar experiment 12 days before LAC Maddison, said last night: "We hope the MoD will listen to this verdict and finally lift the restriction that for so many years has prevented us from seeking redress.
"This verdict shows illegal experiments were being carried out on unknowing servicemen who were being exposed to unacceptable risk of injury and, in the case of Ronald Maddison, death."
Terry Alderson, 74, another veteran who was in court to hear the verdict, said: "This shows what liars the MoD were. Nobody volunteered for these tests. We were sent in there like sheep. They treated us like human animals and we that are still alive are the lucky ones."
There was little immediate sign that the MoD would meet the veterans' demands. A spokesman …