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MoD gags Gulf war research

James Meikle, health correspondent
The Guardian, UK News

Scientists paid to research illnesses in veterans of the first Gulf war have been asked by the Ministry of Defence not to reveal ongoing findings to the unofficial independent inquiry into the health of former troops.

Other advisers, including retired officers, as well as those monitoring the health of troops involved in last year's invasion of Iraq, have also been asked to "observe the confidentiality" of pre-publication findings.

The MoD says presenting such work before it has been reviewed by other scientists might put the credibility of the research at risk.

Last night the ministry said a letter sent to researchers on Wednesday represented a request not a warning, but Shaun Rusling, the vice-chairman of the Gulf War Veterans and Families Association, called the move "despicable". He accused the government of trying to manipulate the way research was presented.

The letter came as the inquiry, headed by Lord Lloyd, the former law lord, revealed that Sir Peter de la Billiere, the British commander in the first Gulf war, would give evidence next week, as will Lord Bramall, a head of the defence staff during the 1980s.

Simon Wessley, a professor at King's College London and one of the scientists advised not to reveal unpublished work, will also attend. However, no serving ministers, officials or members of the armed forces are to attend the hearings. The MoD says it will provide "appropriate documents".

In the letter to more than 40 scientists and advisers, Malcolm Lingwood, the director of the MoD's veterans policy unit, said the only way to establish causes of ill-health in veterans was through its own funded research programme.

"It would be inappropriate for the ministry to try to influence your own approach to the investigation. However [...] I am sure you understand we would not want to jeopardise the scientific credibility of work still in hand by presenting material before it's been given proper peer review."