The Military Tested Chemical Weapons on UK Citizens in the 1950s and '60s

By Gary Cutlack on at

New research into shady military practises claims the government approved the testing of chemical and biological weapons in parts of the UK, without the people affected having the slightest idea they were being experimented upon.

The claims come from Ulf Schmidt, Professor of Modern History at the University of Kent, who says around 4600 kilos of zinc cadmium sulphide was dumped on and around the towns and cities of Salisbury, Cardington and Norwich during the Cold War period, with some lumps also dropped and dispersed from the backs of lorries along parts of the English Channel and the North Sea.

Professor Schmidt also claims – in his book Secret Science – that commuters on the London Underground were experimented upon in 1964, when military personnel released the Bacillus globigii bacteria into the tube, for a laugh, to see how well it could travel and by what means it was best distributed through the tunnels.

Both the bacteria and zinc cadmium sulphide were considered OK back in the asbestos-filled UK of the 1950s and 1960s, although they're now considered dangerous -- with the cadmium element currently linked with cancers.

And it wasn't all done unawares. Schmidt says military staff at the Porton Down base conducted chemical experiments on volunteers between 1945 and 1989, claiming those involved weren't given enough information about what they were being exposed to to make a proper decision about if it was likely to damage their health. The government has previously investigated what happened at Porton Down, with it being well known that it accidentally killed a few people while experimenting with plague and nerve gas.

Obvious concern about the experiments being done on its own people forced the government to come up with an ingenious solution -- test the stuff on foreigners instead. Schmidt claims Cold War scientists carried out "chemical warfare field trials" in southern Nigeria, letting researchers pump out exciting new types of nerve gas weaponry without the possible PR nightmare of killing people in the London commuter belts.

Schmidt has been unable to find much mention of the fallout from the Nigerian tests, explaining: "Officials had clearly good reasons as to why the kind of experiments undertaken in Nigeria were strictly prohibited on the British mainland, which is why the files and photographic records surrounding Britain’s post-war nerve agent testing in Africa were regarded as particularly sensitive." [Independent]