Scientists 'kept body parts of 1953 nerve gas victim'

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
(Filed: 18/07/2004)

Government scientists secretly removed body parts from a national serviceman who died after taking part in nerve gas experiments, a new inquest has been told.

Up to 200 separate samples were taken from 20-year-old Ronald Maddison's brain, spinal cord, heart and skin - without his family's permission - days after he died at Porton Down, Wiltshire, the government top-secret chemical warfare research base, in 1953.

Details of the removal of organs from the airman's body has emerged during a new inquest into his death which opened in May.

The original inquest, held in secret in 1953, found that Leading Aircraftman Maddison's death was accidental, but the new inquest will examine fresh evidence and decide whether the original verdict still stands.

Mr Maddison, from Consett, Co Durham, was among hundreds of national servicemen who volunteered in the 1950s and 60s to take part in tests at Porton Down in the belief that they were helping scientists find a cure for the common cold.

The airman died less than an hour after 200mg of the highly toxic Sarin nerve agent was placed on layers of cloth on the inside of his arm.

Robert Hogg, the witness who made the body parts disclosure at the inquest in Trowbridge, revealed that parts of Mr Maddison's skin, brain, spinal cord, heart, stomach, lung, duodenum and muscle were removed without the knowledge of his family.

Mr Hogg, who was employed as a laboratory assistant during his national service, also revealed that the body parts could still be in existence.

Mr Hogg, now a retired senior chief scientific officer, told the inquest that in May 1953 he was summoned by his line manager and told that one of the volunteers had died.

He was given orders to drive to Salisbury Infirmary, where the post mortem examination was to take place and to wait in a car.

After 90 minutes, his colleagues appeared with "umpteen" cardboard boxes, containing more body part samples "than I have ever seen at any post mortem in my life". Asked how many, Mr Hogg said: "I would say between 100 and 200."

He said the bottles contained parts of almost every organ and gland in the body, "especially heart, peripheral muscle and brain . . . spinal cord and skin, quite a lot of skin."

Mr Hogg disclosed that his line manager had told him that Mr Maddison had died of a heart attack. He said: "I was told that he had a heart condition and should never have been on the course. That was the excuse given to me."

He added: "These samples could still exist today. In Edinburgh [where Mr Hogg worked during his career] we had sections going back to the 1950s, even before."

Mr Hogg suggested that the samples could be in storerooms at the Royal Army Medical College in Millbank, Westminster. The inquest also heard evidence from Alfred Thornhill, an ambulance driver at Porton Down in 1953 who saw Mr Maddison moments after he began suffering from nerve agent poisoning.

Mr Thornhill said that he was ordered to drive his ambulance to the gas chamber because there had been an accident. When he arrived, he was shocked to see two men holding a third man down on the floor.

"I said to this chap that stood up, 'What is happening here?' He had a very, very peculiar look on his face, as though he had seen somebody who had their head cut off, you know, frightened . . . and he said, 'He took his mask off'."

Mr Thornhill told the jury that one of the scientists had Mr Maddison's head and appeared to be pushing his face into the ground.

Visibly distressed by memories of the event, he said: "I have never seen anything like that, never ever. This lad, his whole body was rippling." Mr Thornhill said that on the way back to the medical centre four people were needed to hold down Mr Maddison because the body convulsions had become so violent.

He told the jury that he was made to sign the Official Secrets Act and warned that he risked jail if he spoke of what he saw. The inquest continues.

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main...questid=119578 (external - login to view)