Britain’s Cold War Human Chemical Warfare Experiments



Ian Foulkes was exposed to the deadly nerve agent Sarin in 1983 at the  Porton Down Chemical & Biological Defence Establishment. Porton Down is one of the UK’s most secretive and controversial military research facilities.

Ian describes in detail the process and the ill effects this caused him and shares details of a little-known fatality where 20-year-old Ronald Maddison died 45 minutes after what scientists thought was  200mg of liquid Sarin dripped onto his arm.

We also talk about the development of chemical weapons, including nerve gas during the Cold War and the history of the Porton Down Chemical & Biological Defence Establishment.

Up to 20,000 people took part in various trials at Porton Down from 1949 up to 1989. In 2004 Maddison’s death was ruled to have been Corporate Manslaughter. The MoD withdrew a challenge to this ruling minutes before the hearing. In 2008  the MoD paid 600 veterans of the tests £8k each without admitting liability.

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I am delighted to welcome Ian Foulkes to our Cold War conversation…

There’s further information on this episode in our show notes which can also be found as a link in your podcast app here. 

Thank you very much for listening. It is really appreciated – goodbye.



Ian’s recommended books


Gassed – British Chemical Warfare Experiments on Humans at Porton Down”(2000) Rob Evans
Secret Science – A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments” (2015) Ulf Schmidt
A Higher Form Of Killing – The Secret Story of Gas and Germ Warfare” (1982) Jeremy Paxman and Robert Harris
Porton Down – 75 Years of Chemical and Biological Research” (1992) G.B. Carter (N.B. Use of Humans not mentioned/only rates one sentence IIRC. )

About Canada’s research and experimentation

“Deadly Allies – Canada’s Secret War 1937 – 1947” (1990) John Brydon

Australian Experimentation with Blister Agent

Keen as Mustard – Britains Horrific Chemical Warfare Experiments in Australia (1998) Bridget Goodwin (N.B. I think she has an anti-British bias but good reading and information none the less)

Rhodesian Chemical and Biological warfare

Dirty War – Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975 – 1980” (2017) Glenn Cross

Research of Nerve Agents

Toxic – A History of Nerve Agents, From Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia (2020) Dan Kaszeta