Colleagues praise Kelly's work in island clean-up

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DR DAVID Kelly’s contribution to the decontamination of a Scottish island used in wartime anthrax experiments has been fondly recalled by former colleagues.

"He was a thoroughly decent and well-respected scientist," Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency (HPA), told The Scotsman.

Sir William, a former government chief scientist, chaired an independent advisory group, of which Dr Kelly was a member, which oversaw the clean-up of Gruinard island in the 1980s.

Anthrax was released on the island, situated between Gairloch and Ullapool, in 1942 in a secret wartime biological weapons test by government scientists from Porton Down, near Salisbury.

Sixty sheep, which were tethered in pens, died soon after being exposed to anthrax spores. The bug was released from a gantry on the island because the initial bombs sank into the soft peaty surface, in an oversight by English scientists unfamiliar with the terrain.

Dr Kelly, who was head of microbiology at the Chemical Defence Establishment at Porton Down from 1984 to 1992, was among scientists involved in the clean-up in 1986. A mixture of formaldehyde and sea water was sprayed over two areas of the 520-acre island found to be still contaminated, with hot-spots being injected to a depth of 18in. The treated sites were later re-seeded and a flock of sheep was successfully grazed on Gruinard the following year.

The island, half a mile offshore, was declared free of anthrax in 1990.

Professor James Duguid, who represented the then Scottish Home and Health Department on the advisory group, recalled that Dr Kelly gave a speech at a dinner commemorating the end of the project.

"He was very pleasant and witty. We were all pleased that the project had gone off well," said Prof Duguid.

He said Dr Kelly would have made regular visits to the island as part of the 500,000 operation.

The group’s members were appointed by the Royal Society, at the request of the Ministry of Defence, to advise on the disinfection procedures and check whether they had worked.

The group approved the work, which was carried out by Languard, a Leicestershire-based weed-control firm.