Official rebuff for Gulf inquiry

James Meikle, health correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 July 2004

Veterans of the first Gulf war and their supporters last night reacted angrily to the government's decision not to allow ministers, civil servants and members of the armed forces to attend an independent inquiry into illnesses that have affected more than 6,000 former soldiers.

They accused ministers of "chickening out" of helping to establish possible causes for ill-health suffered by ex-service personnel.

The Ministry of Defence said it would be "inappropriate" to accept invitations to hearings chaired by Lord Lloyd, the former Law lord heading the unofficial inquiry. It promised instead to provide "a pack of appropriate documents" to help Lord Lloyd come to "some understanding of the complex issues involved". The Department of Health is bound by the same decision.

The inquiry is now expected to invite retired military commanders and officials, including Jeremy Metters, the then deputy chief medical officer, who alerted the MoD to anxieties over the joint administration of two vaccines before the war.

Ivor Caplin, the veterans minister, said the government was "committed to openness" and ran a website on which information "which might be relevant" to veterans' illnesses was published.

Lord Lloyd did not comment last night but has previously made it clear that the government departments had "nothing to lose" by co-operating with the inquiry.

Veterans said the decision was a scandal. Ray Bristow, chief executive of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said: "I think they are frightened to attend because they know we have collected enough evidence and information to prove that the vaccines many of us received were the cause of these illnesses."

Paul Tyler, for the Liberal Democrats, said it was "outrageous that ministers have now chickened out ... Their cowardice contrasts all too clearly with the bravery of their troops."