AP, Associated Press
Apr. 5, 1987 11:34 PM ET
LONDON (AP) -- Police on Sunday confirmed the death of a metallurgist involved in secret defense work - the fifth such case in the past eight months in which authorities have been unable to establish the cause of death.
A sixth scientist, a research expert on submarine warfare equipment at the University of Loughborough, vanished in January.
The government has rejected opposition demands for an investigation, saying there was ''no evidence of any link (in the deaths) at this stage.'' But Home Secretary Douglas Hurd has ordered police involved in the individual cases to contact each other about the deaths.
John Cartwright, the defense spokesman for the centrist Liberal-Social Democratic Party alliance, renewed his call for an inquiry by the governing Conservative Party following Sunday's confirmation of the metallurgist's death.
Even if all the cases were suicides, he said, ''it must raise some question about the pressures under which scientists are working in the defense field.''
Police in Thames Valley confirmed Sunday that Peter Peapell, 46, a lecturer at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham near Swindon, died on Feb. 22 from carbon monoxide poisoning.
An inquest returned an open verdict, making no ruling on the cause of death. Police said Peapell was found underneath his car in the garage of his home. The car's engine was running and the garage door was shut, according to the report. His wife told reporters he was happy and had no reason to commit suicide.
Cartwright said he believed there were ''grounds for concern'' and urged police to reinvestigate Peapell's ''worrying'' death.
Last Monday, David Sands, 37, a computer expert at a subsidiary of the British defense contractor Marconi Co. Ltd., was killed when he drove his car, loaded with gasoline cans, into an abandoned cafe in Surrey.
Press Association, Britain's domestic news agency, said Sands had just completed three years' work on a secret air defense radar system for the Royal Air Force at Easams, a subsidiary of Marconi and part of Britain's giant General Electric Company.
Last year, two other Marconi scientists also died.
Vimal Dajibhai, 24, a programmer with Marconi Underwater Systems who reportedly was working on Britain's self-guided torpedo Stingray missile, was found dead last August beneath a suspension bridge spanning the River Avon in Bristol, western England.
Relatives and friends testified he had no reason to commit suicde and an inquest returned an open verdict.
Ashad Sharif, 26, a computer expert with Marconi Defense Systems, died near Bristol in October. A police report said he apparently tied one end of a rope to a tree, the other around his neck, got into his car and drove off, strangling himself. An inquest returned a verdict of suicide.
Richard Pugh, a computer design expert, was found dead in his home in Essex in January. The circumstance of his death have never been explained.
A seventh scientist, Avtar Singh-Gida, 26, disappeared in January in northern England while conducting experiments on underwater acoustics. His disappearance is still under police investigation.
April 7, 1987 | By United Press International
LONDON — A sixth British defense scientist has died mysteriously, prompting new calls for a government investigation of a baffling string of apparent suicides and deaths. Meanwhile, a seventh scientist has disappeared.
Police officials near Oxford said metallurgy expert Peter Peapell, 46, who worked for the Defense Ministry until 1984, was found dead Feb. 22 from carbon monoxide poisoning underneath his car in his garage. The car engine was running and the garage door was shut.
An inquest issued an open verdict, meaning there was no conclusive evidence to confirm whether the death was murder, suicide or an accident.
He was the sixth scientist doing research work linked to the ministry to die since 1982. Five of the deaths and the disappearance of a seventh scientist have occurred since August.
Member of Parliament John Cartwright, a spokesman for the centrist Alliance of the Social Democrat and Liberal Party, last week called for an inquiry into the scientists' deaths.
On Sunday he called Peapell's death ''worrying'' and said he believed there were ''grounds for concern'' in calling for a renewed police investigation. Part of Peapell's metallurgy research -- like that of the five scientists who died and the one who disappeared -- was classified.
The string of deaths began in 1982 when Keith Bowden, a computer scientist doing defense ministry work, died when his car crashed on to a disused railway in Essex northeast of London.
In August, 1986, Vamil Dajibhai, 24, a computer engineer with Marconi Underwater Systems working on torpedo guidance systems, plunged from a bridge in Bristol. Small, unexplained puncture marks were found in his buttocks.
A month later Ashad Sharif, 26, a Marconi computer expert, died of a broken neck in his car near Bristol after driving away with one end of a rope tied to his neck and the other to a tree.
In January, Richard Pugh, a computer design expert doing defense work, was found dead of unexplained causes at his Essex home.
David Sands, 37, a computer expert with a Marconi subsidiary, died March 30 when his car, loaded with petrol cans, crashed into an abandoned cafe and burst into flames outside Winchester. Sands had worked on computer-controlled radar for the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars.
A seventh scientist, Aytar Singh Gida, 26, who was researching submarine warfare at Loughborough University, disappeared in January. He was testing sonar equpment at a reservoir in central England when he disappeared.
March 31, 1988 | By TIMOTHY HARPER, Special to the Sun-Sentinel
LONDON -- Seven British scientists involved in military research have died suddenly, sometimes under mysterious circumstances, in the past 18 months.
Doug Hoyle, a member of Parliament and head of a scientists` union, has asked the Ministry of Defense to investigate the deaths.
``What is the link between all these?`` he asked. ``Is it not worrying that this is happening to top scientists? Is it simply overwork or is there something more sinister afoot? It is very alarming.``
British newspapers have reported that some of the scientists may have been working on Star Wars contracts let by the Pentagon to British firms doing research on President Reagan`s Strategic Defense Initiative.
The latest death was last Friday, when Trevor Knight, 52, a computer engineer for Marconi Defense Systems, was found in his car near his suburban London home. He had apparently committed suicide by rigging a hose from the tailpipe into the car.
The six previous deaths have also been suspected suicides, although in four cases open verdicts -- indicating that authorities could not be sure of the cause of death -- were returned from coroner`s inquests.
The first death was that of another computer engineer, Vimal Dajibhai, 24, in August 1986. Like Knight and two other scientists who died recently, Dajibhai worked for Marconi, a leading electronics firm with strong ties to the British military and intelligence services for years.
Dajibhai`s body was found after he apparently fell from a bridge. Suicide was suspected, but an open verdict was returned because of what the coroner said were unexplained bruises and marks on his body.
Ashad Sharif, 26, another Marconi scientist, was found hanged in October 1986. A suicide verdict was returned.
Richard Pugh, a computer designer, was found dead in his home in January 1987. An open verdict was returned.
The following month, Peter Peapell, 46, a professor at the Royal Military College of Science, was found dead beneath his car, the motor still running. An open verdict was returned.
In March 1987, David Sands, 37, a projects manager for one of Marconi`s sister companies, died when his car crashed into a vacant building. Another open verdict.
In April 1987, Victor Moore, 46, another Marconi scientist, died of a drug overdose. A suicide verdict was returned.
Marconi has refused to make any comment on the deaths of its scientists, but company officials said a statement might be made later this week.
Amid the series of deaths a year ago was the disappearance of Avta Singh- Gida, 26, who was doing submarine warfare research reportedly linked with a Star Wars contract.
Authorities feared foul play, but Singh-Gida was found in Paris a few months later. Authorities said he told them he could not remember any details of his disappearance.