Scots-born psychiatrist Donald Ewen Cameron became notorious for his role in the top-secret MK Ultra programme, running experiments in orphanages and psychiatric hospitals in Canada in the 1950s.
He used LSD, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), insulin-induced comas and repetition to try and erase memories – a technique the CIA hoped to develop into a weapon in the Cold War.
When details of the MK Ultra project emerged in the 1970s, it caused a huge public outcry and led to both the US and Canadian governments paying out compensation to hundreds of victims.
Now campaigners in Scotland are to come forward with sensational claims that similar experiments were also being carried out on this side of the Atlantic.
Last night, one abuse survivor said: “The similarities are unbelievable, the drugs programme, the experimentation – we were also doing these things in the 1950s here in Scotland, allowing this deplorable behaviour by the medical elite.”
One medic likely to be named by the campaigners is Dr Angus MacNiven, who trained alongside Cameron at Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow and went on to become one of the most eminent figures in Scottish medicine.
However, this newspaper has seen evidence that at least one patient died while being experimented on under his care.
Cameron, who was born in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, emigrated to America in the 1920s, but remained in contact with his former colleagues in Scotland throughout his career.
The NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde archives contain a file of correspondence between Cameron and MacNiven, who was Physician Superintendent at Gartnavel from 1932 to 1966.
The correspondence covers the years 1924 to 1959 but it has been closed to the public for 75 years, along with the rest of MacNiven’s staff papers.
In July 1959, Cameron told a medical conference in Glasgow about his research into how “exposure to repetition of carefully worded statements” could change the personality.
This was the “brainwashing” or “psychic driving” procedure at the heart of MK Ultra, which has since been described as a form of “medical torture”.
The topic has featured in books and movies such as The Manchurian Candidate and The Men Who Stare At Goats.0academic Alfred William McCoy wrote: “Stripped of its bizarre excesses, Cameron’s experiments… laid the scientific foundation for the CIA’s two-stage psychological torture method.”
The survivor – who asked not to be named for legal reasons – said of MacNiven who died in 1982: “The man was out of control and out of his depth and what he was doing in that hospital was absolutely appalling.”
It is known that experiments involving LSD were carried out at Gartnavel. Drug-induced comas, ECT, and “restraint and seclusion” were also commonplace in many asylums.
However, the suggestion that children were being used as guinea pigs in a programme linked to the British or American secret services is certain to prove hugely controversial if discussed at the inquiry.
The claims were revealed by this newspaper in December and now form part of the official submission to the Scottish Government from the In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas) group.It states: “The Inquiry should also review medical experimentation that was carried out on vulnerable children, and adults without consent.”Alan Draper, the Incas Parliamentary Liaison Officer, said: “I’ve heard that name [Dr MacNiven] mentioned on a number of occasions.”I know that the legal people involved do have the relevant files, although the files do have a tendency to disappear.”One of the problems we want the inquiry to consider is the destruction of records.”
For example, many medical files from Lennox Castle Hospital in Lennoxtown, Stirlingshire, where some of the experiments are said to have taken place, were destroyed in a fire.
However, the British Journal of Psychiatry archives do contain evidence of patients being “selected” for experiments at Gartnavel.
In 1936, MacNiven published a report of an experiment where 40 asylum patients – some of them suffering from “melancholia”, or depression -– were kept in a drug-induced state of sleep for 10 to 14 days.
One woman developed pneumonia and died, although in his report MacNiven denies it was linked to the injections of somnifaine – a powerful barbiturate.
He also reports that a man suffered a “cardiac collapse”.
One man’s temperature hit 104C, prompting MacNiven to note: “We felt it unwise to continue treatment in this case.”
MacNiven also gave permission for two drug trials involving schizophrenics, which set out to “deliberately provoke neurological disturbances”.
Both studies, in 1963 and 1964, resulted in “disturbing” side-effects.
No ages for patients are given but another Gartnavel study sanctioned by MacNiven in 1966 involved two 17-year-old “schoolboys”.
Incas president Frank Docherty, from East Kilbride, who first exposed the issue of abuse in Scottish children’s homes more than 15 years ago, said: “These experiments were kept hidden from the public eye and they were happening in places all over Scotland.
“The number of victims could run into thousands.”
The Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability has estimated that up to 12,000 children with learning disabilities spent time in residential care up to 1981.
Although it is not suggested that all were subjected to medical experimentation, the campaigners insist that a significant number would have experienced unwanted drug testing.
The Scottish Government said yesterday the inquiry’s chair and remit would be announced “by the end of April”.
A spokeswoman for the health board added: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on allegations that happened many years ago.”