Editor's meeting prompts debate on disease outbreak

Howard: Tory leader met with WMN editor

A report leaked to the Western Morning News on the foot and mouth crisis was expected to be raised in the House of Commons this week by Opposition MPs during a debate on animal health issues.

According to Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Theresa May the debate was the direct result of a meeting between WMN editor Barrie Williams and Tory leader Michael Howard this month.

The West Country daily revealed in March that Government vet James Dring had concluded the 2001 foot and mouth crisis would not have happened had his inspection of a Northumbrian pig farm been “more rigorous”. (Press Gazette: March 26) The WMN has criticised the Government for not making the Dring Report available to the Anderson Inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak.

At first the Government claimed there was “nothing new” in the Dring report and it was merely the vet’s “personal musings”. The Government later said it would have been “preferable” if the report had been made available to the Anderson Inquiry.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has maintained the report would have made no difference to the findings of the Anderson Inquiry. An internal Defra inquiry last week cleared ministers and officials of any attempt to mislead the inquiry.

But May claimed: “The Government must now act to dispel the impression there has been a cover-up by opening itself up to a truly independent inquiry into foot and mouth.”

Williams told Press Gazette: “I am pleased that people are not letting this issue go. We felt passionately about it since the report came into our possession.

There is no way that report should not have gone to the to the Anderson Inquiry. What else was hidden? “Michael Howard came to talk to us about rural issues and I raised this with him. It is his personal interest that is really driving this along.”

The Western Morning News, along with Farmers Weekly, Newcastle’s The Journal and Western Mail, has campaigned for an independent inquiry into the 2001 disease outbreak. Last year the titles lost a legal battle for a judicial review of the Government’s decision not to hold an independent inquiry.

The Conservative Party has committed itself to holding an independent inquiry if it gets into power.

Meanwhile, Williams said: “All we can do is to keep chipping away so people are aware that, two years on, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.”

By Jon Slattery

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