Farmers Weekly: "rough justice"
It was a David and Goliath battle and "Goliath won", said Western Morning News editor Barrie Williams, the man who had spurred the media into pressing the Government for a public inquiry into the foot and mouth crisis.
It was Williams’ idea, taken up by the Western Mail and The Journal, Newcastle, to join farmers to press through the courts for a full public investifation. Farmers Weekly and Horse and Hound magazines were already pursuing the same line independently.
In the latter stages of the battle, the BBC, Associated Newspapers, Guardian Media Group, Mirror Group Newspapers and the Telegraph Group joined in. But the Government won the court battle on a technicality.
Lord Justice Simon Brown and Mr Justice Scott Baker dismissed the challenge, ruling that the Government was entitled to decide not to hold a public inquiry. Lord Justice Simon Brown said: "It is, to my mind, pre-eminently a political decision and one for which the Government will ultimately have to answer at the ballot box."
Mr Justice Scott Baker said he had "considerable sympathy" with the claimants in their desire to have a full investigation in public. But he continued: "I have reached the clear conclusion that the defendants’ decision was a lawful one with which we cannot interfere."
A disappointed Williams told Press Gazette: "We were absolutely right to do what we did but the Government threw its might at us and Goliath won."
In an opinion piece in the Morning News calling for a change in the law, he wrote: "The judgment provokes some disturbing thoughts. It seems to say that if a government chooses to make itself unaccountable to the people on a matter of great public disquiet over its conduct, there is no potential redress in the courts." Farmers Weekly editor Stephen Howe said: "There was some sympathy in the judges’ comments and on that basis we are hopeful it could go to an appeal in the House of Lords." Howe said a decision would be made in the next few weeks but it will depend on how much money is left over and how much more can be raised. "The cost of the High Court appeal was in excess of £100,000 and I have no reason to believe the second stage will be any less," he added.
A statement from the BBC expressed "disappointment" at the decision: "At the time we submitted our representation we said we believed that there is overwhelming public interest in the issue and an open and transparent public inquiry would have the public’s confidence; that a public inquiry would encourage others to assist the inquiry; and that a private inquiry could result in distortion of the evidence and findings of the inquiry. This is still our position."
By Jean Morgan, Ruth Addicott and Roger Pearson