A HEARTBROKEN mother is fighting for the return of her soldier son's brain amid fears it was used for secret tests without her consent.

Margaret Mullineux is set to take on the Ministry of Defence and Southampton General Hos-pital in the High Court over what she claims was the illegal removal of the organ from her son, Andrew, pictured above, following his mysterious death in the wake of the Gulf War.

In what could prove a test case for thousands of families across the South, Mrs Mullineux is demanding answers over why his brain was sent to laboratories in Wiltshire.

Southampton Hospital has referred her to its new organ helpline, set up in the wake of the Alder Hey scandal.

But the Ministry of Defence says claims of illicit medical experiments into so-called Gulf War Syndrome are "absolute nonsense" - and believe Mrs Mullineux's fears are based on an "unfortunate" use of defence-headed letter paper.

Today (Feb 3) is the eight anniversary of Andrew's death. He was just 24 when he died.

Born in Shirley, Southampton, and brought up in New Milton Andrew had served with the army's Royal Signals Corps during the war with Iraq in 1991.

He was working in a civilian capacity for the United Nations in Yugoslavia when he fell victim to encephalitis - swelling of the brain. The cause was unknown.

But his grieving family say they were never told that his brain was removed after a post-mortem examination at Southampton, and samples sent to Porton Down, a research establishment used by both the military and the Department of Health.

Mrs Mullineux, 53, who now lives in Christchurch, Dorset, only found out what had happened six years later when the Gulf War Veterans' Association (GWVA) pointed out similarities between Andrew's illness and other alleged cases of the syndrome.

But while she received a pathologist's letter confirming the dispatch of samples to Porton Down, she is still waiting for an explanation - and her son's body parts.

"I feel horribly betrayed that this could have been done without my knowledge," she told the Echo.

"My family had enough to go through with his death without this.

"Andrew and others like him did their best for their country, and the least they deserve is a bit of dignity."

Her solicitor Mark McGhee, who represents the GWVA, said it was an appalling case.

"It is a clear breach of The Human Tissue Act, which says body parts cannot be removed without consent from next of kin," he said.

"To think such parts have been lying in jars for years is a disgrace, and we want to know why."

A spokesman for Southampton Hospital said the samples were sent to the health research facility - not the military one - to help determine the cause of death, and that Mrs Mullineux could pursue her inquiries with the hospital's new organ helpline service.

And a defence spokesman was adamant the ministry had nothing to do with the case.

"The only Gulf War veteran samples we hold at Porton Down are blood ones, and the individuals who gave them have full knowledge of that," he explained.

"It is absolute nonsense to claim we are carrying out such experiments. It is an unfortunate coincidence that the post-mortem pathologist was working at the Haslar naval hospital when he wrote to Mrs Mullineux.

"But he had no connections with the MoD when the post-mortem examination was carried out."