VETERANS protested this week as the Ministry of Defence reached a settlement over an inquest verdict with the family of an RAF serviceman who underwent lethal nerve gas tests more than 50 years ago.

Leading Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison, who was an RAF engineer based in Swindon, died aged 20 after having droplets of sarin dabbed on to his arm at Porton Down chemical warfare testing facility on Salisbury Plain in 1953.

The MoD was due to challenge a Wiltshire inquest jury's unlawful killing verdict in November. The case was settled when the MoD agreed to accept the verdict on the basis Mr Maddison had died as a result of gross negligence in respect of the conduct and planning of the experiment.

But it successfully argued that the unlawful killing verdict could not imply that Mr Maddison did not consent to the experiment or there had been a failure to obtain his consent.

The 400-strong Porton Down Veterans' Group says the settlement smothers' evidence that Mr Maddison never gave his informed consent to the test.

The jury which heard the second inquest into Mr Maddison's death was silent about the basis for reaching its unlawful killing verdict.

But MoD lawyers complained that coroner David Masters was wrong in law to leave the verdict open to the jury on the basis that Porton Down scientists were grossly negligent in failing to obtain Mr Maddison's consent for the experiment.

They also objected to a verdict of unlawful act manslaughter based on lack of consent, arguing there was insufficient evidence for either verdict.

The late Mr Maddison's sister, Lilias Craik, issued a statement on behalf of her family saying they were satisfied that they had been able to come to a constructive resolution of the MoD legal challenge.

This week former sailor Eric Hatherall, 62, from Highworth, near Swindon, who claims he was duped into taking LSD at Porton Down, reacted with dismay.

He said: "The whole saga has been a disgrace. I was forced to take all sorts of drugs and I am fortunate that I am in good health today. I don't want compensation but I would like the MoD to take responsibility. Ronald Madison's family has been put through hell."