Agony of Gas Test Victim

The Journal (Newcastle, England), May 6, 2004 | Go to article overview

Agony of Gas Test Victim


Byline: By Megan Bolam

Winston Churchill's government attempted to keep details of the death of a young North-East serviceman in nerve gas tests 51 years ago a secret because of "national security", an inquest heard yesterday.

The re-opening of the inquest into exactly what happened to 20-year-old Consett-born Ronald Maddison at a top-secret military centre in May 1953 will be seen as a test case for those who believe he and many others were duped into taking part in the trials.

Leading RAF Aircraftsman Maddison, of Consett, County Durham, was the first person to die in the trials at Porton Down, Wiltshire, and yesterday it emerged that all experiments then ceased, with Churchill informed of the decision.

The original brief inquest into the last moments of the aircraftsman was held behind closed doors in 1953 on the orders of the Home Office and swiftly recorded a verdict of death by misadventure.

The then Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe had said it was "essential" the first inquest was held in camera in the interests of national security, the hearing was told.

But after years of campaigning by his family in County Durham, the report into how and why he died has at last been re-examined and a second inquest opened in Trowbridge, Wiltshire yesterday.

Coroner for Swindon and Wiltshire David Masters said that the re-examination of the death of LAC Maddison, at the secret biological and chemical weapons research base on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, was a "unique occasion."

Mr Masters said on May 6 1953 LAC Maddison was one of a team of six servicemen who entered a chamber at Porton Down wearing respirators.

All were exposed to 200 milligrammes of Sarin which was dropped on to a piece of uniform material loosely wrapped around their arms.

LAC Maddison and a colleague sat in the chamber in their masks playing noughts and crosses while they were under observation, jurors were told.

After 23 minutes however, he said he felt "pretty queer" and was taken outside where he began to experience breathing difficulties and was sweating.

He was given an antidote but his condition worsened and he said he couldn't hear.

He was taken by ambulance to the Medical Centre and given further treatments but slipped into unconsciousness.

Attempts to revive him including being given oxygen and an adrenalin injection into his heart all failed.

Mr Masters went on to reveal efforts that were made to shroud the original inquest in secrecy.

A letter kept in a bundle of the coroner's notes logged a telephone call from a Mr James at the Home Office which said that Mr Maxwell-Fyfe had said it was "essential" the inquest was held in camera in the interests of national security.

The bundle also included a letter from WB Purchase, secretary of the England and Wales Coroners Society, to Mr Dale. …

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