Veterans exposed to sarin at Porton Down call for outstanding service medals

Porton Down - Terry Fincher/The Fincher Files/Popperfoto via Getty Images
Porton Down - Terry Fincher/The Fincher Files/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Porton Down guinea pigs have called for medals for outstanding service after being exposed to the deadly nerve gas sarin.

It comes after veterans who helped make Britain a nuclear power were awarded medals last month for the first time.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, praised the Nuclear Test Veterans for their “invaluable contribution to the safety and security of the UK”.

Now, veterans who took part in tests at the Government’s defence research centre at Porton Down have once more called for medals to recognise their sacrifices.

Ian Foulkes, 58, was exposed to sarin at the Wiltshire-based laboratory when he was a private in the 28th Signal Regiment in 1983.

He claimed at the time that Government scientists assured him that there had never been problems with the nerve agent during previous experiments and that he was not told that Ronald Maddison, an airman, died minutes after being tested with sarin in 1953.

Mr Foulkes was 19 when he was stationed in Germany and answered a request for able-bodied servicemen to go for tests at Porton Down.

Once there he was led into a chamber and told to walk around while the gas was administered. In a previous interview with The Telegraph, he said: “I had tunnel vision, and felt sick. My chest constricted and it was like breathing through a straw. My head ached terribly.”

Ian Foulkes - Peter Payne
Ian Foulkes - Peter Payne

Mr Foulkes, who claimed that his health steadily deteriorated from that point, was among those who won a payout and apology in 2008 when the Ministry of Defence awarded £3 million in compensation to 360 veterans of Cold War experiments at the secretive research centre.

Mr Foulkes, from Wiltshire, first called for medallic recognition in 2015 but received a government reply that service alone did not “constitute justification” for medals.

He has since had a letter published in the Royal British Legion’s magazine searching for other veterans who participated in tests at Porton Down.

Despite his payout, he feels those who were involved in the tests have become “a forgotten group, with many veterans almost embarrassed to talk about attending”.

In his letter, he wrote: “Their contribution to the science of protecting our service personnel cannot and should not be underestimated.”

Other soldiers who had liquid cannabis and LSD tested on them at the laboratory have called for medals as a “well done” for their participation.

Iain Shore, 66, a former soldier from Eastbourne, said he received cash for taking part in tests in 1976 to investigate the effects of the substances.

He said a medal was about recognition, self-belief and “restoration of self-worth”.

‘We were guinea pigs’

He said recognition would have a “beneficial effect on people’s wellbeing” and “means somebody actually cares enough to say ‘well done’.”

Darren Mallalieu, 55, who served in the Army, Navy and Air Force, told the BBC that his colleagues warned him not to take part, but he participated for extra pay.

He said: “I’m so glad the lads who did nuclear testing got what they deserved, but we are no different.

“Nuclear warfare and radiation are horrendous. Biological and chemical warfare is evil. We were guinea pigs. We deserve recognition. It’s about time the Government held their hands up and admitted it.”

Last month, the Government announced it would be investing £450,000 into projects which will commemorate and build further understanding of the experiences of veterans and civilians who were deployed to Australasia.

The Office for Veterans’ Affairs is to provide a £250,000 oral history project to chronicle the voices and experiences of those who supported the UK’s effort to develop a nuclear deterrent.

Due to start in April 2023, the project will run for two years, giving nuclear test veterans the opportunity to be interviewed, and contribute to an accessible digital archive of testimonies about their time working on the tests.

The OVA is currently scoping leading historians to undertake the oral history project and they will partner with a major cultural institution of their choice, to deliver the project and create a lasting national memory.

The Ministry of Defence was contacted for comment.