BACK IN March 1998 the British tabloid press went wild over claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was planning to poison the public with deadly anthrax bacteria. The Sun's front page read, 'Saddam's Anthrax in our Duty Frees'. It told of plans to put the bacteria in perfume bottles - 'one sniff and you're dead in four days'.
Yet recently revealed public records show the British government conducted top secret germ warfare trials in the 1940s using anthrax in the Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of the island of Antigua. The tests, carried out by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), were a dangerous fiasco, dogged by technical difficulties and bungled planning.
In 1949 a group of MoD scientists planned to release clouds of anthrax and brucella germs over a string of dinghies carrying containers of animals. They wanted to test the effects of exposure to the germs. But the sheep and guinea pigs proved unsuitable and had to be shot. Then the sea turned out to be too rough for the experiments, so the tests were carried out just off the shore of a local island with no concern for people's safety.
The official report admits that it was 'uncommonly lucky' that only one member of the research team became infected with the germs. And, to top it all, conditions at sea meant it was impossible to assess the levels of bacteria in the atmosphere, making the test results meaningless.
POLICE IN Essex have dumped a new computer system which cost £6 million. Apparently they had not realised that the year 2000 was approaching and failed to make sure that the new system could cope with the millennium. Last year the force had to disband its mounted and motorcycle sections to balance the books.
AN Essex policeman was bitten by a piranha when he tried to rescue it after a fish tank was accidentally knocked over during a drugs raid on a house in Chelmsford, Essex.
Xmas is off
MIDLANDS Electricity has cancelled Christmas dinner for many thousands of its pensioners this year. It claims the move is necessary because the industry regulator told it to cut costs. In July the company's two US owners struck a £452 million deal in which one of its owners bought out the other. A month earlier Midlands Electricity sold off part of its business to National Power for £180 million. So clearly it can't afford a few turkeys.
Home Office policy
HOME SECRETARY Jack Straw's top adviser on race told last week how he was challenged by security guards inside a Home Office building. Trevor Hall, one of Britain's most senior black civil servants, was waiting for colleagues when a guard approached him and said, 'What are you doing here?' He had already won a public apology from the Metropolitan Police in June when his car was stopped for the forty fourth time.
Spin on the line
RAILTRACK SEEMS determined to flaunt its total disregard for rail safety after the Paddington crash. The profiteers have appointed a new spin doctor to try and rescue their image. Railtrack says it is prepared to pay a new communications chief up to £200,000 a year, an 'industry insider' told the London Evening Standard.
The firm has appointed upmarket 'head hunter' Taylor Bennett to trawl the City for potential candidates. The job will be one of the highest paid spin doctoring jobs in the whole of Britain. So Railtrack is prepared to fork out huge amounts of cash to bolster its image while it continues to scrimp on passenger safety.
THE Fabian Society, the most moderate of moderate Labour Party groups, has voted down an attempt to write common ownership out of its constitution. At its recent annual general meeting a New Labour zealot, Paul Richards, proposed a 'modernising' alternative. To his great surprise the Fabians decided to stick with the aim of 'collective ownership and democratic control'.
MPs ON a House of Commons catering committee were most upset recently. One of their important 'fact finding' free visits to Australia was cancelled. The MPs hoped to go to find out about an impressive achievement by members of the state parliament in Sydney. Australian MPs had run up a bill at the parliamentary bar of £100,000, some £750 a head.
THE family of an elderly blind patient found dead in a hospital corridor are considering suing for damages. They say security staff stopped looking for Abram Walker to look for a stolen carpet.
Things they say
'I wore sunglasses after the events of 1973 because I had to lie. Lies are discovered through the eyes, and I lied often.'
GENERAL PINOCHET in a book published last week
'WE'RE A bit pissed off about this. We could have done without all the hassle. I suppose we'll put the money with all the rest of it.'
Wealthy couple RICHARD and SHIRLEY THOMPSON after they found out they had won £5 million on the lottery
'I AM not blind to Jeffrey Archer's weaknesses, but for me they simply underline his great strengths.'
STEPHAN SHAKESPEARE, Archer's ex campaign manager
'IT IS the judgement of the court that the maximum penalty is the minimally reasonable sentence in this case.'
US judge ERNEST YELTON sentencing a man to 360 years in jail
'WE'VE decided not to proceed on extending the right to roam to woodlands and river banks. We think the landowners have got a case.'
Member of the NEW LABOUR government quoted in the Financial Times
'IN this prosperous constituency most people only know the tube in relation to their monthly colonic irrigation treatment.'
RADIO 4 insulting working class people in Kensington and Chelsea during new MP Michael Portillo's visit to a local tube station
'THE fundamental defect of the present jury system is that juries are unlikely to give a true verdict when the issues of the case are complicated. Sometimes there are men of scruffy appearance, youths and, most unfortunately, men and sometimes women who have had prison sentences [on them].'
Former appeal court judge SIR FREDERICK LAWTON