Tony Collins. Open Verdict. Sphere, 1990.
In 1986 several newspapers devoted space to the curious but apparently unconnected suicides of Asian scientists working on government research projects for Marconi. (A third Asian whose name was mentioned in these stories turned up alive a few months later). The story grew from there to reports of a whole series of strange deaths connected with the defence industry which, like the 1920s 'Curse of the Pharaoh' and the apparent mysterious deaths of persons connected with the Kennedy assassination, caught the public imagination. In Flying Saucer Review Gordon Creighton made these events the theme of one of his many bursts of unspecific paranoia directed against either demonic elementals or Soviet agents (as usual it was not clear which from the context). Quest, the Yorkshire UFO Socirty magazine, maintaining its curious balancing act between belief in dark official wrongdoing, and a belief that any UFO sighting by a member of the police or armed forces is unassailable, also weighed in with an article.
This book performs a useful task in setting out what is known about twenty-five alleged mysterious defence industry deaths, although the information is presented in a disorganised way and the book is poorly indexed. Even so, the affair ultimately defies analysis. since for every claim made a counter-claim can be presented. In view of the number of people involved in the same type of work as the deceased, are the percentage of suicides above the average rate for the population as a whole? No they are not, but a high proportion of suicides are unemployed or suffering from incurable diseases, which is not the case with the suicides discussed here. On the other hand, might not work on secret contracts that one cannot discuss with friends or family and mean ones private life may be under surveillance, bring its own pressures (some of which may be glimpsed in the accounts contained in this book)? Some people concerned seem to have committed suicide in very bizarre ways, but would not a sinister group faking suicides try to make them as mundane as possible? Or perhaps the unusual nature of these deaths might be conveying a warning to those in the know?
Journalists should know the difference
between cans of worms, mares nests,
and loads of old cobblers
Ultimately one must fall back on whether individual cases, however many or few, seem to offer proof of sinister activity. A large number of cases in this book involving suicides who left notes or killed themselves in locked rooms can rationally be ruled out immediately. Some cases remain which seem curious but the evidence is extremely inconclusive, and in various cases the author seems to be determined to find sinister explanations. Even in the case of Avtar Singh Gita who turned up in Paris after a mysterious disappearance Collins is suspicious of the fact that the police knew where he was some time before the information became public. The fact is that in Britain it is not a criminal offence to go off somewhere without telling anyone, and it is not the job of the police to broadcast the whereabouts of anybody who does so.
In several cases it is stated that friends or relatives knew of no reason why those concerned would have committed suicide, but surely problems that drive people to suicide are often precisely those they feel unable to share with others. In some cases the authorities seem to have been grudging with information but this is hardly surprising in any matter relating to people with security jobs. In some cases apparently curious remarks attributed to the police may simply have been the result of the fact that police representatives, when confronted with unlikely hypotheses by journalists frequently give non-committal replies which are then taken-as endorsements of these hypotheses. A phenomenon not unknown in the UFO world as well!
In spite of all this, the book takes a generally reasonable approach until the final chapter which is devoted to the claims of one Joe Vallis, described as an engineer, involving highly unlikely claims of secret mind-control technology, whereby victims can be induced to commit suicide. One wonders if this chapter was included as a result of a demand from the publishers to come up with some definite conclusion.
There is plenty of scope for investigative journalism in contemporary Britain and plenty of pressure on those few engaging in it to keep quiet. However investigative journalists should (like UFO researchers) remember that the sum of many zeroes is still zero; and as Auberon Waugh has observed, know the difference between cans of worms, mares nests, and loads of old cobblers. -- Roger Sandell, from Magonia 37, October 1990.