Long delayed inquest to begin into death of UK scientist killed during secret bomb experiments

By David Stringer, AP
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Inquest begins in secret UK bomb experiment death

LONDON — A long-awaited investigation into the death of a British scientist killed during secret U.K.-U.S. experiments to build the type of homemade bombs likely to be used by terrorists is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Coroner Peter Dean will open an inquest into the death of Terry Jupp, who died in 2002 during weapons tests on a remote island used as a military facility off England’s eastern coast.

Jupp, 46, worked for the military’s forensic explosive laboratory and suffered severe burns when a crude bomb spontaneously exploded during the tests on Aug. 14, 2002. He died of his injuries six days later.

The inquest into his death has been delayed for eight years amid a criminal investigation and concerns about the sensitivity of evidence related to the team’s classified experiments.

Two of Jupp’s managers at the government’s military science service — the Defense, Scientific and Technology Laboratory — were charged with manslaughter following an inquiry into the blast. Both denied the allegation.

Prosecutors withdrew a charge against scientist Maurice Marshall in 2007, but declined to disclose their reasons citing security concerns.

Military scientist Robert Weighill was also cleared of a similar charge in 2005, when a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence.

The precise nature of experiments the scientists were conducting when Jupp died have never been explained, though the program is thought to have been a collaboration with the U.S. Los Alamos national laboratory in New Mexico.

Britain’s defense ministry has denied claims made by campaigners seeking information about Jupp’s death that the team worked on a program to test whether terrorists could build so called “dirty bombs,” which use conventional explosives to scatter radiological material.

“There were no radiological tests involved,” a defense ministry spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Jupp’s family has previously accused Britain’s government on attempting to cover up the detail of Jupp’s death.

Previous investigations have established part of the team’s work involved attempts to construct bombs from widely available ingredients including hydrogen peroxide. Similar bombs were later used in the 2005 suicide attacks on London mass transit, which killed 52 commuters.

Gareth Patterson, a prosecution lawyer, told a hearing at London’s Old Bailey court in 2007 that the charge against Marshall had been withdrawn following a review of “the decision at a very high level.”

“The difficulties of the sensitivities of this case are such that I cannot go into too much detail about the information in open court. That information involves further evidence involving the results of a series of tests carried out by one of the prosecution witnesses,” he told the court.

Both Marshall and Weighill are expected to give evidence to the inquest hearing.

Some parts of the inquest, to be heard before a jury at a court in Southend, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) east of London, will be held in private on national security grounds.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said work has been carried out to censor some classified documents for use at the inquest, but denied it had contributed to the eight-year delay.

“The MOD has cooperated fully, decisions on when the inquest should take place are a matter for the coroner,” the defense ministry spokesman said.

Inquests cannot be held while criminal proceedings are ongoing, meaning the investigation was delayed until at least 2007, when the charge against Marshall was dismissed.

The inquest hearing is expected to last up to four weeks.

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