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U.K. pays servicemen over Cold War LSD tests

Britain has agreed to pay compensation to three servicemen given LSD during tests in the 1950s, the government said Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

Britain has agreed to pay compensation to three servicemen given the mind-altering drug LSD during tests in the 1950s, the government said on Friday.

Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6, commissioned the experiments fearing that the Soviet Union was developing a secret substance to brainwash its enemies and force prisoners to make confessions with a truth drug.

The tests were carried out by scientists at Porton Down, the government’s chemical and biological weapons research laboratory, in 1953 and 1954 during the height of the Cold War.

The men who took part in the tests claimed they were duped into taking the LSD, thinking they were taking part in research to find a cure for colds.

'His face melted'
Don Webb, one of the volunteers who received an extra week’s pay for the tests, said he and a colleague began to hallucinate after being given a clear liquid to drink.

“His face melted and opened so that I could swear that I could see his skull beneath the skin,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

“The walls and floor of the room seemed to be covered by a clear liquid that was moving about and writhing," he said.

“I was surrounded by a cell of moving writhing things inside an ordinary room," Webb added.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office, which deals with MI6 inquiries, denied the men had been misled.

“Settlement offers were made on behalf of the three claimants and on legal advice ... the government thought it was appropriate to accept,” he said.

“They weren’t duped into taking the tests. It’s history: no one knows precisely what happened 52 years ago,” he said.

The amounts paid to the men have not been disclosed but the BBC said they were thought to be less than $17,500 each.

“I think they have grudgingly acknowledged they did something wrong,” Webb said. “I think that’s as near to an apology or an explanation as I’ll get.”

The LSD case comes after an inquest in 2004 ruled that a serviceman who died during experiments at Porton Down to test the effect of the lethal nerve gas sarin had been unlawfully killed by the Ministry of Defense.