Hilary Meredith-Beckham has today called for a public inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome.
As new findings from American scientists pinpoint exposure to nerve agent sarin, possibly made worse by anthrax vaccinations, Hilary has worked with the Daily Express on a detailed double-page feature – has the mystery of Gulf War Syndrome finally been solved?
The Daily Express reports how militarily, Gulf War One was a great success in early 1991. Iraqi troops ordered to invade Kuwait by crazed despot Saddam Hussein were evicted in a few months by a US led coalition force, which included more than 45,000 British troops and support staff.
However, the victory was marred by a mysterious sickness which mainly acutely affected thousands of British and US service personnel.
Wracked by joint and muscle pain, some died prematurely without knowing the cause of what became known as Gulf War Syndrome.
But now American scientists have amassed evidence to show the deadly nerve agent sarin is to blame for their wrecked lives. Allied military leaders apparently did not have the foresight to realise that bombing Hussein’s chemical weapons stores would release into the atmosphere diluted sarin which would be breathed in by coalition forces.
Lead researcher Dr Robert Haley, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, randomly selected 1,000 US Gulf veterans and found those with a less effective version of the PON1 gene were more likely to become ill.
For Briton Kerry Fuller, 58, the potential breakthrough has been a long time coming as he’s suffered decades of poor health.
Kerry went to the war as a fit young man in the RAF but returned a hollow shell of his former self, wracked by pain, constantly tired and plagued by anxiety over his symptoms.
“I want to have the same tests as the US veterans to see if I have this particular gene which makes you more likely to fall ill,” says Kerry from his home in Dudley, West Midlands. “It would go a long way to putting my mind at rest and thousands of other suffering veterans would benefit from the test, too. Was I exposed to sarin gas? I don’t know but this may help me find out?”
Now, the sarin link needs investigating in Britain, too, but Kerry says such a probe must examine how sarin would react in service personnel who had been given vaccine injections to protect them from whooping cough and another nerve agent, anthrax.
Today the Daily Express discloses that the double jabs were given to thousands of men and some women BEFORE they had undergone proper trials on animals, even though experts were flagging up dangerous warning signals.
The Daily Express has been given a copy of a confidential letter written by an expert working for the National Institute For Biological Standards and Control, based in Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.
The letter -dated December 21, 1990- was sent to a senior official at the Department of Health in Whitehall and reveals they had done limited experiments on some animals for “abnormal toxicity” on the anthrax and whooping cough vaccines.
The explosive letter states: “When each of the two vaccines were tested alone they were not associated with an unusual degree of toxicity.
“However, when combined there was evidence of severe loss of condition and weight loss in animals. I would emphasise that these findings are preliminary but they do suggest that if used in man as a combined preparation an enhanced degree of reactogenicity could occur.”
Reactogenicity represents the physical manifestation of the inflammatory response to vaccination with symptoms including fever, swelling, myalgia and headaches.
No one knows what might happen if service personnel given both vaccines were also exposed to sarin, but the thought of such a cocktail sends shivers down Kerry’s spine.
During the war Kerry was an unsung hero, one of thousands providing the backbone for victory. Born in Cambridge he was raised on stories of how his grandparents had coped stoically in World War Two and joined the air cadets while at grammar school.
In August 1984 he signed up to join the RAF aged 20 with big dreams. “I was looking for a long career, see the world and serve my country, at least that was the plan,” he recalls.
Working as a supply controller, his pivotal role was to make sure RAF teams had the equipment, including bombs, whereever they were deployed. He worked in Canada and was based in Germany when called to play his part in Gulf War One. Initially he flew to Cyprus to help with supply lines and then went on to a large military base in Saudi Arabia.
As part of his job in Saudi Arabia he had to travel, usually by road, into Iraq to supply forward operating bases with bombs and other equipment.
“In January 1991 I remember being at locations when sirens would go off,” he said. “You’d get the explosions and then all the monitors would go off. We were told to ignore the monitors because of all the injections we’d had.”
Some of the explosions were caused by Iraqi scud missiles but he was never told what it was that triggered the sensitive air quality monitors to go off.
After one attack, he suffered breathing problems and needed to be treated in a hospital for chronic fatigue. “When the oil wells were set on fire you were just breathing in thick black smoke all day,” he adds. “You noticed people were getting sick after their injections. The attitude was take some painkillers and crack on.
“When we returned I was feeling tired all the time. I had respiratory problems and was starting to get a lot of muscle and joint pain for no apparent reasons. That continues to this day.”
He married in November 1991 and had a daughter but the marriage did not last. He remarried and in 2004 had a stroke while at home. He’d left the military by then because of illness and was working as a concert technician at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham. “I was doing the washing up at the sink and went to pick something up but my left hand and left arm wouldn’t move. My youngest daughter came in to ask what had happened to me but I couldn’t speak words at all.”
Since the stroke he has been unable to work and his second marriage has faltered, although the family lives together in the same property.
Kerry’s situation comes as no surprise to Hilary Meredith-Beckham, who while working for another legal firm started amassing cases of sick service personnel way back in 1992.
“The Royal British Legion asked me to go and see people from all over the country, all different ranks and regiments,” she says. “They were all telling the same story about the type of illnesses they had.”
A barrister’s opinion was sought which said it would be too expensive to pursue the cases in court on legal aid.
Mrs Meredith-Beckham kept all the files when she set up her own firm, Hilary Meredith Solicitors, based in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
Some of her original clients have contacted her recently because new evidence is emerging, including previously restricted documents, and she is now looking at resurrecting the case with a potential class action.
“The sarin report from America is of huge interest although it doesn’t explain why people who were never deployed became ill,” she says.
“The common denominator among those who became ill is the anthrax vaccine. Those who had the anthrax injection but were not deployed were suffering the same symptoms as those who were deployed.
“If those who were deployed were exposed to sarin as well they would be in a bad state. I’m still waiting to read the full sarin report. The Americans were in different positions to the British at times. I don’t know how you can say where exactly the sarin was released into the atmosphere. It would be interesting to see if they have pinpointed where sarin was released.
“Although I think the possibility of sarin poisoning is very high I think it is only part of the story. Those who weren’t deployed are still suffering. There must be something else involved as well.”
At the moment she has about 30 cases on her books. Sadly, many sick servicemen she helped have passed away prematurely.
While working in a previous practice, she attended “at least” ten funerals
of men who had at one time achieved A1 fitness levels in the military but whose health was wrecked. She said she could not talk more fully about those deaths without double checking the cause of death on their death certificates and without gaining approval from their families.
“They died at an earlier age than they should have done,” she said. “It was a terrible time. It made me very angry because no one was doing anything about it.
“We are only learning now that the anthrax injection in particular had never been tested on humans, so the service personnel were literally used as guinea pigs. It was a case of let’s see what happens when we give this injection to our armed forces. The situation is similar to the atom bomb tests when our soldiers were used as guinea pigs.
“From what I now know I think there was a risk to life from these anthrax injections. There were some birth defects in the UK. There were a high number of heart defects in children in the UK.
“I would really welcome a public inquiry into this now. Any inquiry should include the new information coming from America about sarin. It’s a very important issue and it’s gone on too long.”
Hilary Meredith-Beckham has today called for a public inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome.