The history of opposition to Porton Down at Animal Aid

Porton Down was founded just over a century ago, in 1916. Since then it has generated controversy for the experiments conducted there both on animals and humans*. Porton Down is the oldest chemical warfare research establishment in the world, and has, unsurprisingly, been of interest to animal protection groups, journalists and concerned citizens for decades.

Just three years after Animal Aid was founded, its supporter magazine, Outrage!, reported details of a march in Salisbury on 3rd May 1980, to raise public awareness of what was happening at Porton Down. Several thousand people, and TV cameras, were reported to be in attendance for the march through the city centre. Afterwards, some protestors caught coaches to Porton Down. There, Animal Aid’s founder, Jean Pink, and another woman, attempted to deliver two wreaths to the director of the laboratory as a gesture of sympathy towards all the animals who had suffered and died there. After an exchange of views, Ms Pink and her colleague tried to present the two wreaths to the director. He refused to take them, so the wreaths were placed onto the ground.

Two years after the march through Salisbury, another march was organised which went from Salisbury all the way to Porton Down, a distance of about 8 miles. More than 5,000 people marched; they came from as far afield as Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. As well as reporting the details of the march, a 1982 Outrage! magazine described an example of warfare experiments at Porton Down. This is reported to have involved exposing monkeys to a nerve gas called Soman. The poor animals were then given drugs to try to protect them from the effects of the nerve gas. This work was initially reported in a 1979 journal. It is scandalous that, four decades on, nothing much seems to have changed at Porton Down – animals, including monkeys, are still being used in experiments.