- in Environment
The involvement of Porton Down experts after a seven-year-old boy died during floods was withheld from an inquest into his death, it has been claimed.
Zane Gbangbola’s family believe he was poisoned by cyanide as water from an old landfill site flooded their Surrey home, but a coroner disagreed.
Manchester’s Labour mayor Andy Burnham, who backs them, confirmed government defence laboratory involvement.
But a “comprehensive decision” was made by the coroner, the government said.
Opposition politicians and trade unions have criticised the inquest findings into Zane’s death and called for an independent inquiry.
Surrey coroner Richard Travers concluded that instead of cyanide poisoning Zane died after being exposed to carbon monoxide from a petrol pump used by his parents to remove water from their flooded home, in February 2014.
Environment ‘Tragic case’
But speaking earlier at a commemoration event organised by the House of Lords to mark the sixth anniversary of Zane’s death Mr Burnham, who took up the family’s case as former shadow home secretary in 2016, said “there were many authorities involved. Porton Down was also involved.
“Did any of this come out in the inquest? No it didn’t. Therefore, the full story clearly wasn’t told at the inquest and it needs to be,” he said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said Zane’s death was “a tragic case” and its thoughts were with his family.
“[But] there has been a public inquiry into the cause of death of Zane where the coroner provided a comprehensive decision and report on the inquiry,” he said.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has previously said that throughout the inquest the Environment Agency provided detailed evidence to assist the independent coroner in reaching his conclusions.
As an independent member of the judiciary, Mr Travers has also previously said it was not appropriate for him to comment.
Mr Burnham, who backed Zane’s parents after his Hillsborough tragedy inquest campaign, called for an independent panel to oversee full disclosure of all documentation.
“This family should not still be searching for the truth,” he said.
At the event Mr Gbangbola told campaigners “all we ask for is the truth”, while Ms Lawler said the “flawed” inquest had been followed by “six years of hell” for the pair.
Mr Gbangbola believes Porton Down involvement supports the couple’s claims cyanide from the flooded landfill site was involved.
The commemoration, hosted by ex-Green Party leader Baroness Natalie Bennett, was held as a petition calling for a public debate on Zane’s death was signed by more than 100,000 people in what Mr Gbangbola said was a “massive social prescription to parliament”.
The family’s claims were backed by Joe Weir, from the Fire Brigades’ Union, who said: “Firefighters went to that premises – specialist firefighters with special equipment – and took readings. They went into that property three times taking readings of hydrogen cyanide.”
He later told the BBC: “All the evidence is that it came from unregulated landfill.”
Sir Keir Starmer, now running to be Labour’s next leader and the former Director of Public Prosecutions, said an Article 2 inquest could have been held to get to the bottom of what happened.
“[But] that didn’t happen because at that inquest there wasn’t that full search for the truth. There was just a very narrow inquiry,” he said.
He said a full investigation was now needed, adding: “It will happen too late and we will have waited too long, but it will happen.”
Before the election, Labour promised the family an independent inquiry.
Richard Burgon, shadow justice secretary, said it “hurt” not to be able to implement the commitment, but he called for a cross-party group to raise the “deep, dreadful injustice” of Zane’s case at every opportunity.