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Dead Scientists Mystery Baffles Britain

April 10, 1987 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ On March 30 scientist David Sands climbed into his car, the trunk packed with tanks of gasoline, and drove into the front of a vacant restaurant.

He died in a fireball that incinerated him almost beyond recognition, the fifth British scientist involved in security-related research to die in mysterious circumstances since August.

A sixth scientist has been missing since January. Together the cases add up either to a series of bizarre coincidences or to a cloak-and-dagger conspiracy.

But even those who suspect a conspiracy don’t know where to begin looking for answers, for the facts that link the tragedies are disparate and inconclusive.

The government agrees ″it is odd that all were computer scientists working in the defense field″ but has rejected calls for an inquiry. All the deaths look like suicides, but only two have been so ruled officially. In no case has a convincing motive for suicide been made known.

Three of the scientists worked for Marconi, an electronics subsidiary of industrial giant General Electric Co., a leading defense contractor, which is not related to the American General Electric.

According to the Financial Times, the three, along with the missing man, all were ″concerned with advanced computer software and signal processing - a fast-moving scientific area vitally important both in the military arena and in commercial applications.″

The first death was reported on Aug. 5, when Vimal Dajibhai, 24, was found in the gorge below Clifton bridge near Bristol.

Marconi officials say he worked for Marconi Underwater Systems at Watford, near London, as a junior software engineer checking torpedo guidance systems.

It is not known why he traveled to Bristol, 105 miles west of London.

On Oct. 28 Ashhad Sharif, a computer systems analyst working for another Marconi unit near London, was found strangled in a park near Bristol. The inquest found he had tied a rope to a tree, looped the other end around his neck, and drove off in a car at high speed.

A tape recording found in his car satisfied coroner Donald Hawkins that it was a suicide, but again the question was, ″Why Bristol?″

Hawkins suggested police look for a link with the first death, observing: ″As James Bond would say, this is past coincidence.″ Police say they found no link.

Sharif, 26, had worked for the same company as Dajibhai in early 1986, but at a different factory and not on underwater research, says Marconi spokesman Abel Haddon.

On Jan. 8 Avtar Singh Gida, 26, vanished. A researcher at Loughborough University’s electronics department, he was finishing his doctorate in acoustics technology and was ″engaged on an unclassified research contract placed by the Ministry of Defense,″ according to a ministry spokesman who insisted on anonymity.

Singh Gida was last seen testing acoustic equipment at a reservoir near Loughborough. He vanished two days before his wedding anniversary and had already bought his wife a gift.

Marconi says Singh Gida and Dajibhai were ″nodding acquaintances″ while living in the same faculty residence at Loughborough in 1979.

Britain, whose nuclear arsenal is submarine-based, is a world leader in undersea warfare technology. Loughborough, in northern England, is major research center in the field.

On Jan. 4 computer design expert Richard Pugh was found dead at his home east of London.

On Feb. 22 Peter Peapell, 46, a lecturer at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham near Swindon, died lying under his car with the engine running and garage doors shut.

The Defense Ministry says Peapell was working on a non-classified study of Soviet advances in beryllium metallurgy. Beryllium is widely used in atomic reactors.

Sands, the most recent scientist to die, was a researcher for Easams, a Marconi sister company, where the Defense Ministry says he was working on a tender for an air defense systems contract.

There is no clue to who put the gasoline tanks in his car before he went on his fateful ride in Basingstoke, 50 miles west of London.

After Sands’ death, opposition lawmaker and defense specialist John Cartwright wrote to Defense Procurement Minister Lord Trefgarne saying: ″I do not wish to be accused of inventing plots more suited to a TV thriller than real life, but I think the circumstances of these four cases stretch the possibility of mere coincidence too far.″

Trefgarne wrote back: ″I agree that it is odd that all were computer scientists working in the defense field, but there any relationship stops. ... I do not see that a special inquiry such as you suggest is either desirable or necessary at this time.″

Marconi’s Haddon insists there is nothing to suggest the deaths are more than coincidence.

″We employ 35,000 people in 18 separate sister companies,″ he told the AP. ″These individuals were working on separate programs for separate companies at separate locations.″