CONTROVERSY has surrounded the condition since it first reared its debilitating head. Such is its nature that for decades even the experts could not agree on a name, or even that it existed. Last October it was finally agreed by three royal medical colleges it was to be called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it really existed, and it should be treated on both a physical and psychological basis. Yet here we are five months on and once more there are shock headlines, debate, and mystery.

A high incidence of what has variously been known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), and, infamously, yuppie flu, has been noted on the islands of Lewis and Harris. It has been suggested nearly all of the 22 men and some of the 40 women officially registered as suffering from CFS have worked with organo-phosphates, which are used in sheep dips and fish farming. It was economy with the truth over the use of organo-phosphate pesticides in the Gulf War, of course, which brought about the call for the resignation of Armed Forces Minister Nicholas Soames last week: pesticides which, it is claimed, are responsible for Gulf War Syndrome suffered by around 1000 British troops.

The symptoms which the troops are suffering are mental and physical exhaustion and emotional trauma. Chro-nic Fatigue Syndrome presents the same case study. According to Professor Peter Behan, of Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, who is internationally recognised as an expert on CFS, there is no doubt there is a link between OPs and CFS. At the end of last year a study he had made of the link was published in the Journal of Neur-ology, and this month he will chair a conference of international experts to discuss all current research. Professor Behan says: ''This is one of the hottest areas in CFS at the moment. The symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome and CFS are identical. We think OPs set you up for it and then a virus or other things come in. It is a hot topic and we have got incontrovertible evidence which has been ac-cepted and we are already carrying out funded research to investigate further.''

Murdo John Smith, from Valtos on Lewis, can be for-given for being a little cynical about the cause of this current round of controversy. He has suffered from CFS for four years, contracting it when he was just 14 years old. He believes it has ruined his life. Certainly he has missed out on years which cannot be recaptured. He became ill over a period of four months at a time when his potential in sport was blossoming. He could have expected to have by this time been outstanding in whichever field he had chosen to specialise. Instead, his energy levels, severe pain, and an inability to concentrate have kept him from school all this time and he can hardly raise his voice, let alone sprint round a track.

Smith worked with sheep from early childhood. He helped at the dipping every year and says he did not wear protective clothing. He believes there must be other factors as well as the OPs which contribute to CFS, or, as he points out, his dad and the other men in the village would be much worse than him. None the less, he has been told that on Lewis and Harris there are four times the number of cases per head of population than in the rest of Scotland, and he wants to know why.

He says: ''The Ministry of Defence is throwing money at Gulf War Syndrome because soldiers are supposed to leave the Army as physically fit as when they went in, or the MOD will face law suits. I am not looking for money. I just want to find out exactly what is wrong so there is a cure. Maybe I will get well some day, but I don't want others coming behind me to go through the same as I have.''

Ann Campbell, who runs the local ME Association on Lewis and Harris, is a sufferer. She has been running the support group for five years, during which time members have risen from 10 to 54. She knows personally of another eight cases and says others will not have come to her for help. This is from a population of 30,000.

Ms Campbell says: ''Time and time again we hear about rare conditions which are given enormous sums of money for research. There is no government-funded research going on into ME and there never has been. The medical profession did give a grant, however, to the psychiatrists to study it. People are becoming ill and remaining ill for long periods and there is no research being done other than by the medical charities. Now the Government is investigating Gulf War Syndrome, and I quite agree with the way Murdo John is feeling about that.''

The link with organo-phosphates comes as no surprise to Ms Campbell. She says: ''The townships in Lewis are scattered, but communities come together for the communal sheep dip. It has been a social occasion. The sheep came back through the villages and went into the fields or onto the moor.''

She adds: ''Any protective clothing would come back into the house and go through the washing machine, so women who were nowhere near would be covered in sheep dip. Children would be there, and people would even jump into the dip if a sheep got into trouble. I always found my cats got ill for a few days after the sheep dip, and one has subsequently died at the age of three.''

Her local MP, Labour's Calum McDonald, will be tabling a question to health minister Stephen Dorrell today asking that the connections between Gulf War Syndrome, ME, and organo-phosphates be investigated. Murdo John Smith, who has irretrievably lost four years of his young life, has every right to wonder why it took a cover-up in the war department for people to start taking his illness seriously.