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   Inside Out - East: Monday November 6, 2006

Insider account - clouds of secrecy

Mike Kenner
Uncovering hidden secrets - Mike Kenner

Between 1953 and 1964 top secret trials were carried out using a chemical concoction of zinc cadmium sulphide to simulate how a cloud would disperse biological agents.

The unsuspecting population in the East of England was sprayed covertly with the poisonous compound at least 76 times.

Mike Kenner is an "Open Government Campaigner" who stumbled across the Norwich and Bedford trials, and whose revelations prompted two Government Inquiries.

This article by Mike Kenner describes how he uncovered the story using files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Investigating the trials

"During November 1998, the Sunday Telegraph published an exclusive article by Rob Evans and Andrew Gilligan.

"It revealed that scientists from the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment (CDEE), Porton Down, had in the past, sprayed large parts of the UK with a toxic chemical compound - Zinc Cadmium sulphide (ZnCds).

"Initially, it was thought that 12 large-scale experiments had been conducted by CDEE scientists. My investigations soon revealed that this figure was a vast underestimation..."
Mike Kenner

"At the time of the article, I was already involved, as an Open Government campaigner, in calling for the Ministry of Defence to release more information concerning the 1963-1975 Porton Down public area Biological Warfare experiments, which had been conducted in my local area - South Dorset.

"After pressure from various MPs and concerned residents, the MOD eventually announced that they would commission yet another Independent Review, which would investigate possible adverse health effects caused by the public area ZnCds tests.

"This was the second Independent Review to be commissioned by the MOD during the late 1990s.

"The first review, conducted by Professor Brian Spratt FRS, investigated any possible adverse health effects experienced by the residents of southern England who were exposed to the massive aerosols of live bacteria, emitted during the Porton Down Dorset Defence Trials."

Opening up the files

"During the following years, I used Open Government legislation, such as the Code of Practice for Access to Government Information, in order to obtain more information about the ZnCds field trials.

"Initially, it was thought that 12 large-scale experiments had been conducted by CDEE scientists.

MRE report
Casting new light - recently released files on spraying

"My investigations soon revealed that this figure was a vast underestimation of the true figure.

"By the time that the Academy of Medical Sciences had been appointed to conduct their Independent Review (late 1999), the number of known experiments had risen to circa 70.

"Fortunately, examination of each newly declassified Porton scientific report revealed evidence of yet more ,as yet unknown, ZnCds field trials.

"Again, I would make a Code of Practice request to Porton Down and once again more information would be released.

"By now, the tally of known public area ZnCds experiments had risen to nearly 100."

Open air spraying

"During the course of my investigations I inadvertently stumbled across a cache of papers relating to trials which took place over Norfolk in 1963 and again in 1964.

"These trials turned out to be the last in this open-air spraying programme and were themselves unique because they involved the Home Office and the City of Norwich Police.

"On occasion, this newly declassified material has revealed information which contradicts that which is contained in the independent review.

David Whiteley at  Cardington
Clouds of secrecy - Inside Out investigates

"On at least two occasions, official Porton Down scientific reports have been discovered which were not even examined by the review.

"The first (Porton Technical Paper No 794) detailed a number of experiments where radioactive gas and ZnCds particles were released from AERE Harwell and were tracked for at least 60 kilometres downwind.

"The second (Porton Technical Paper No 885), detailed the numerous (circa 36) ZnCds field trials that were conducted by Porton Down scientists at Cardington, Bedfordshire, during 1963.

"Even more importantly, PTP No 885 revealed that the chemical compound used in the 1963 Cardington field trials (ZnCds) was sprayed by Porton scientists from a moving vehicle.

"This would have placed local Bedfordshire residents in much closer proximity to the source of sprayed ZnCds than previous trials, which had sprayed the ZnCds from an aircraft.

"Spraying this material from ground level could have led to a much higher received dosage of inhaled ZnCds amongst residents living close to the route of the Porton spray vehicle.

"The fact that such a large number of potentially hazardous field trials could be overlooked by a Government appointed Independent Review, and only be discovered by an ordinary resident using Open Government legislation, proves to me the true worth of the Freedom of Information Act."

Mike Kenner

Notes

All views expressed in this article are those of the author, Mike Kenner.

Web links

Cadmium
DERA
Wikipedia - Cadmium
Wikipedia - Chemical Warfare

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