Long delayed inquest begins into death of UK scientist killed during secret bomb experiments
LONDON – LONDON (AP) — The parents of a British scientist killed during secret anti-terrorism experiments with homemade bombs told an inquest into his death Tuesday that the expert's work had helped save many lives.
Coroner Peter Dean opened the long-delayed inquest into the death of Terry Jupp almost eight years after he died on a remote island off England's east coast used as a military facility.
Jupp, 46, worked for the military's forensic explosive laboratory and suffered severe burns when a bomb exploded during the tests on Aug. 14, 2002. He died of his injuries six days later.
In a statement read to the inquest jury, Jupp's parents Roy and Anne said their son had been involved in vital work — but had likely been failed by an inadequate safety regime.
"We now know the work of Terry was probably instrumental in saving many lives and of high national importance," his parents said in their statement. When Jupp was alive, his family had been unaware of his secret work.
They said they had assumed stringent safety procedures were in place as he had conducted experiments with explosives. "Sadly, this appears not to be the case," their statement said.
The precise nature of the experiments has never been fully explained, though previous investigations disclosed that scientists were studying the types of homemade bombs likely to be built by terrorists.
Officials from the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are thought to have collaborated on the project.
The inquest into Jupp's death had been delayed 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 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.
In a second statement read to the inquest jury, Jupp's wife Pat said her husband appeared to have realized instantly his injuries would likely be fatal — asking a colleague to call her and tell her he loved her.
"I knew things were serious at this point, as Terry was not the kind of person to use words like that," she said.
Previous investigations have established part of the team's work involved attempts to construct bombs from widely available ingredients, including hydrogen peroxide. The material was later used in devices in the 2005 suicide attacks on London's subway and bus network, which killed 52 commuters.
However, other details of the team's work have remained undisclosed.
Gareth Patterson, a prosecution lawyer, told a hearing at London's Old Bailey court in 2007 that the criminal charge against Marshall had been withdrawn following a review of "the decision at a very high level."
Both Marshall and Weighill are expected to give evidence to the inquest hearing, which is expected to last for a month.
Dean said parts of the inquest, being held 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 hearing.