WMN accuses Government over foot and mouth report

Western Morning News: published five-part series about the report

The Western Morning News has accused the Government of only making public a vet’s report claiming the 2001 foot and mouth crisis could have been prevented after it was leaked to the paper.

WMN London editor Jason Groves described the reaction of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to his inquiries over the story as “evasion, excuses and bluster”.

The paper ran its first story about the report by government vet Jim Dring as an exclusive on 5 March.

Dring concluded that the foot and mouth crisis “would never have come about” if his inspection of a Northumberland pig farm in the weeks leading up to the outbreak had been “more rigorous”.

The WMN worked closely with The Journal, Newcastle, on the story and Farmers Weekly was also involved.

The leak has raised questions, now being taken up by MPs, as to why the report was never submitted to the official inquiry into foot and mouth, headed by Dr Iain Anderson.

Groves said when he first challenged Defra over the report on 4 March he was told it contained “nothing new” and it had never been intended for the Anderson Inquiry.

In fact, the leaked report obtained by the WMN was addressed to Anderson.

Groves said: “The reasons given for withholding the report changed almost by the day as Defra’s claims were undermined by the evidence.”

He claimed Defra variously told him the report was withheld because it could have prejudiced the trial of Bobby Waugh, the owner of the Northumberland farm, on foot and mouth related charges; that it was not “material” to the inquiry; that it was an “aide memoir” and that some of it was libellous.

The WMN, at first, had only part of the report and said Defra refused to release the full version. Using its own contacts, the paper got the report and began to publish it as a five-part series.

It was only then, said the paper, that the Government decided to publish the report on the Defra website and conceded that it would have been “preferable” if it had been submitted to the Anderson Inquiry.

WMN editor Barrie Williams believes the episode has vindicated the paper’s call that there should have been a full independent public inquiry into the outbreak.

“I never had any faith in the Government’s so-called inquiry,” he said. “I always suspected the whole thing was a cover-up.”

Williams described the Dring Report as “dynamite” and said “it has remained disgracefully hidden for three years, and has emerged in spite of, not because of, the Government”.

He claimed Defra released the report as “a spoiler” once WMN had begun publishing it and because an interview with Anderson was to be published in Farmers Weekly.

In that interview, Anderson said: “It was regrettable that we didn’t see [Dring’s] evidence at the time.”

A Defra spokesman said the Dring Report had been made public at the time of the Waugh trial. On its website, Defra claims: “Dr Anderson has told Defra that had he seen Mr Dring’s memo it would not have changed any of the conclusions or recommendations of his inquiry and Defra welcomes this.”

By Jon Slattery

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