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|CUMBRIA FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY, Wednesday 8th May 2002
Report and pictures by
The people of Cumbria need healing from the wounds inflicted on them in the past year, and an opportunity to talk about those wounds. Expressing the horror and pain of it all is an important step on the road to healing; although events were so traumatic, that for many, recovery will never be complete.
In April 2002 it was announced that Cumbria, arguably the county which suffered most from the government's slaughter policy, would hold a foot and mouth disease enquiry.
Pictured from left : Nick Green, Elaine Commander, Jean Dixon and Tom Griffith-Jones
Some have said that the numerous separate inquiries are not a good thing, since the government will welcome another excuse not to hold a full public inquiry, but the likelihood of that ever happening is remote in any case.
The inquiry took place over four days at Cumbria County Council's offices in Kendal. BBC Radio Cumbria transmitted the entire inquiry live, and the details are available on their website. www.bbc.co.uk/cumbria Perhaps the fact that it was being broadcast on the radio was the reason for the low attendence on the day that I was there. There were only around fifteen people in the audience, and that included press and the people who were giving submissions.
The nine-strong inquiry team will embark on a tour of farms, rural communities and businesses across the county before resuming for a further four days later in May.
I went along on day two, Wednesday 8th May, to hear Nick Green of Heart of Cumbria give his evidence. Nick has fought tirelessly, non-stop over the past year for the facts to be revealed. In addition to Nick's evidence, which we report on at length below, the panel also heard from Mick Elliot, Director of Safety Services for Cumbria County Council, Geoff Brown, Hefted Flocks, and three representatives of local small businesses. Members of the public were also able to give evidence if they requested in advance.
Prior to the proceedings I heard Nick Green say, "I have had two threatening phone calls this week, telling me I had better be careful what I say, but I am going to tell the truth."
Howard Christie owner of the Wasdale Inn, Wastwater and
active in the local tourist industry.
Professor Thomas warned that the inquiry had no protected legal status as it is an open inquiry, and it would be wise to bear this in mind whilst speaking.
NICK GREEN'S EVIDENCE
Nick began, "Thank you Professor Thomas and members of the panel"...
"The failure of Her Majesty's Government to conduct an independent and proper national public inquiry is in my opinion, outrageous. Given that in excess of 11 million animals, just under 5 million in Cumbria, have been killed, and indeed the vast majority were healthy. Many businesses were wrecked, both in tourism and agriculture, people's lives destroyed. And rural communities torn apart, by an unscientific, bullying policy. The loss of hundreds of years of breeding, some of the finest stock resources in the world, resulted in, without doubt, the worst tragedy to visit Cumbria this century.
"The Prime minister refuses to allow himself, his ministers and civil servants to come under public scrutiny. It is a cowardly response. These same ministers and civil servants have been proven to be economical with the truth. The truth, of course, is embroiled in a complicated web of deceit. Also not only by ministers and civil servants, but also by the National Farmers Union, and the wider scientific community.
"The one subject I consider to be of great importance to Cumbria, and other areas which epitomises the most horrendous aspects of the foot and mouth disease policy -- confusion, chaos, destruction, unscientific -- and a level of bullying inflicted on people who have animals that may never have been seen before. That is the very controversial 3 km and firebreak cull.
"There is still confusion over the terminology relating to the 3k cull. However, I have examined in detail, the events leading up to, during, and since the cull. And I have explained how and why the department deliberately misled us all. Indeed, there were instances of what could be called lying.
"The 3km firebreak cull was indeed barbaric, unscientific, and fully proceeded on the personal orders of the Prime Minister. I would remind you if you need reminding that it was the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who took personal charge of this crisis. My personal feelings are that there has to be some level of retribution, and that those responsible must be held accountable. The 3km cull was conducted in an atmosphere of confusion, misinformation, intimidation and lies.
"The 3km cull gentlemen, was ordered on the 15th March 2001 at 13.30 hours. Mr Nick Brown the sacked MAFF minister stated, 'All animals within 3km will be destroyed on a precautionary basis. Those affected by the compulsory 3km cull will receive full market value compensation for their animals, whether infected or healthy. It must be noted that at this time, around the 15th March, the disease was officially under control, with a recent outbreak of one.
"After an astonishing U-turn later that day, around 18.30, it was announced that the cull only applied to sheep and pigs. Great confusion existed during the cull and since. This was apparent amongst government ministers, civil servants, valuers, farmers, and indeed the general public. Interestingly enough, between the 12th and 16th of March, the European commission recommended the following action to be taken as a matter of urgency: They said; consider preventative slaughter in certain circumstances, in an attempt to get ahead of the disease, and to reduce the rate of infection to which animals are being exposed.
"I want to point that out to you, that is in direct contravention of EC directives. Alistair Campbell, Prime Minister Blair's Press Spokesman, admitted in a press release from 10 Downing Street, that Downing Street did not have powers to enforce a mass cull of healthy animals. There were practical difficulties over the establishment of firebreaks around infected farms. He said. 'We have to do that with the consent of farmers. There were no plans to introduce emergency legislation to take compulsory slaughter powers, and the government hoped to persuade farmers to co-operate with the cull.
"Suddenly, the cull was voluntary. I believe, and it is a personal opinion, Professor Thomas, that Her Majesty's Government had realised that they had no powers in invoke this policy. They were in deep trouble. The resistance to the 3km cull comes as MAFF vows to get tough with people who did not co-operate. On the 26th April 2001, Nick Brown announced a major relaxation of government slaughter policy following the media outcry about the fate of Phoenix the calf. The confusion apparent in government was obvious. Alistair Campbell's deputy tried blatantly but ineffectually, to say that this was not a decision taken by politicians. However, Number 10 refined the story again. The final decision was taken on a Wednesday morning; following meetings that morning with Nick Brown, Jim Scudamore, Professor King and others.
"Many vets commented, since, the policy had switched from compulsory, first, to voluntary, to the present at the time, voluntary compulsory, scheme. The voluntary aspect had a strong compulsory veneer. The term voluntary was widely used to describe the cull, and appeared on official documents, including valuation forms, invoices, and indeed letters. Dr Paul Kitching, ex-head of exotic diseases at Animal Health Pirbright, now working in Canada, stated that many infected premises are now known never to have had the disease. The policy of culling within 3 km of an infected farm was based on a wrong model. And was introduced on the back of a fundamentally flawed prediction. Common sense was totally suspended, Professor Kitching went on; and ministers were alerted to the wrong policy in March.
"Dr Shannon, Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Agriculture and DEFRA said that the committee that advised the Prime Minister made incorrect assumptions about the outbreak, because it did not fully understand the disease, the food industry, or farming practises. He attacked the cull policy as unscientific.
"Mr Elliot Morley, Animal Health Minister, stated in the House of Commons, 'As at the 22nd of October, a total of 7,294 dangerous contacts and 255 slaughtered-on-suspicion cases which have not been recognised as infected premises, had laboratory tests conducted. Of these, 5 yielded positive results, and subsequently became IP's and were recorded as such.'
"That means, gentlemen, 7,549 premises culled out under the 3k slaughter-on-suspicion or DC, whatever you wish to call it, only 5 of which showed evidence of foot and mouth disease."
"Out of 5,786 sheep tested at Great Orton in 116 groups, between
the 7th and 24th April, only one tested positive. And we know there
were around half a million sheep killed there in the most appalling
"I'd call that a disaster."
"There are grounds for believing that the changes to the diagnostic protocol were dictated by the government's political concerns. As early as April 26th 2001 it was written in The Times, that there would be no new foot and mouth cases by the time of the election date of June 7th, according to the government's Chief Scientific Officer. David King told the Agricultural Select Committee, that epidemiologists believed that the number of new cases would drop to zero in the days before June 7th. Well, I live in the Eden Valley, gentlemen, and I can tell you that damn well didn't happen. They were killing on the day of the election in front of us.
"Clearly this date was significant to the modellers, presumably because they were asked about it. It had no significance from a disease control point of view.
"In November I received a leaked memo, from DEFRA, Page Street, London. Dated the 6th November 2001. That is an important date, gentlemen. And the actual addressee was Mr Morley. The memo was sent to Mr Elliot Morley amongst others and confirmed that the voluntary cull in Cumbria was not voluntary. On the same day, Mr Morley told the House of Commons -- and I quote, exactly from Hansard: 'At the present time, we do not have powers for a firebreak cull. There was a 3km cull in Cumbria, and there was a voluntary cull; and people were invited to participate in that. If there was a particular situation where it was recommended that a firebreak cull would be desirable, then it [the Animal Health Bill] gives you powers to do that.'
"Although Morley has said the cull was voluntary, to the House of Commons, a letter sent to farmers from MAFF at Carlisle states: 'According to our records, you are not willing to give up your sheep to the 3k cull. This letter is to advise you what arrangements are now being put in place to include your sheep in the cull. In the infected area, sheep goats and pigs within 3km of infected premises will be treated as dangerous contacts.'
"This was a perfect example of bullying, because this means that the Ministry of Agriculture will make arrangements for your sheep to be slaughtered on your farm.
"I have also had reports from various farmers, one told to me at the 'Lessons Learned Inquiry', that they were phoned by MAFF on a regular basis, in the early hours of the morning, late at night, and Sundays, and told that if they did not give up their sheep, they would have to pay for the subsequent slaughter and disposal.
"They were also rung by National Farmer's Union local members, and told, 'What the hell do you think you're playing at, you've got to give up your sheep.'
"Other friends of mine were also told that if they did not give up their sheep to the voluntary cull, they may infect their neighbours and, 'You will not be allowed to re-stock again.' And in one case I have been told, they were also told: 'We will kill your cattle.' That letter was signed and sent out by the Assistant Director of Operations at MAFF in 2001.
"Voluntary or compulsory, Mr Morley? I wonder. On Friday 23rd February 2002, three and a half months after Mr Morley's astonishing lies in the House of Commons, it was revealed that Mr Morley had at last backtracked. He had written to Mr David Maclean, MP for Penrith and the Borders, Morley writes: 'Some owners of animals subjected to the 3km cull on the grounds of foot and mouth disease, may have been informed that their animals were culled on a voluntary basis.' Well, I can tell you that all the paperwork supports that they were told this.
"They may also have been informed that they had no right to dispute the valuation of their animals. The department have insisted that all such culls carried out under the supervision of its officials were in fact compulsory. And in such cases it was their right to dispute the valuation within 14 days.
"Mr Maclean said that the Minister's confession was further evidence that a full public inquiry was needed to get to the bottom of the scandal of handling foot and mouth. And the pack of lies farmers had been told by ministers from day one. This has been sneaked out in a letter to me, with no announcement by ministers, and not a single word of apology.
"What was the legal position relating to the 3km cull? Mr Nick Brown, MAFF minister, at the EU Commission Inquiry, one year after the cull had been invoked, was asked whether the cull had been legal. And in a performance described as turning evasion and ambiguity into a new art form, he said that he believed it to be legal. Which is not exactly the same thing as confirming that it was legal. I draw your attention to the Upton/DEFRA case, where the presiding judge ruled that DEFRA were not entitled to apply the blanket policy of slaughter, and had to take into account the specific circumstances. Mr Justin Harrison refused DEFRA leave to appeal, and awarded Mrs Upton costs. Leaving the government, or should I say, the taxpayer, an estimated bill of some £40,000.
"Under the EU law, which I believe has primacy, it permits monitoring and inspection only of contiguous areas, up to 3km. It does not authorise mass slaughter. This is again confirmed by Devon solicitor, Alayne Addy, who represented more than 200 farmers successfully, none of which succumbed to the disease. She confirmed that the EU directive requires livestock on adjoining premises to be inspected or sampled with regard to the configuration, location and possibility of contact. The contiguous cull did not follow the directive. Instead the farms were systematically cleared of livestock, using discretionary power of illegal slaughter. As to the legal basis, the UK government published a document in November 2001, which confirmed that there was no general power to slaughter healthy animals on adjoining farms under English Law. Nor was there any such power in EU directives.
"Finally, the most telling piece of evidence available: The final nail in the coffin of those perpetrators of the 3km cull. This is an extract from the lobby briefing, 10 Downing Street on the 29th March: Asked if any thought had been given to extending the powers that the government might need beyond the contiguous farms policy, and for the -- new name here -- cordon sanitaire; the Prime Minister's spokesman, Mr Alistair Campbell, said no. He pointed out that with regard to the 3km firebreak area, to the South of Penrith, there had been farmers in that area who were against a slaughter policy. That is an understatement. Discussions were continuing with them on this matter. Pressed further, the PMS said that we are not looking to take any powers at this stage. There is no need to do so, as we are not going ahead with the cordon sanitaire at this time.
"Questioned further as to whether we could force a farmer to have his stock slaughtered to implement a cordon sanitaire, the PMS said that if we were to reach that position, we would hope that we would have got there through persuasion. Well, I'll tell you what, read bullying there.
"Asked about the legal position, if the Chief Vet decided that animals had to be destroyed, either as a high-risk contact, or as a disease contact, then they would be destroyed under disease control measures. In terms of the 3km cordon sanitaire, firebreak /compulsory/ voluntary/ compulsory voluntary, whatever you wish to call it, there was a difference inasmuch as the animals were being culled to act as a firebreak. Legislation would be required to take that forward, should farmers decide that they did not want their animals to be killed.
"This may be why the UK government were unwilling to test their policy in the English courts. Of only 15 cases brought by the government against farmers 11 of these were withdrawn, and only 4 have appeared in the High Court. 2 were successful, 2 were lost. The judges concentrated on the level of risk and exposure, as required in English law, they did not analyse the legality of the policy against EU directives - very disappointing.
"In the 2 lost cases virtually no scientific evidence was presented to the judge, in what were described as 'quick in and out cases'. When full scientific evidence was presented, MAFF/DEFRA lost.
"I believe that Mr Blair, on hearing the government Chief Scientist's statement, that the epidemic was out of control, and predicting that infected farms would be around 4,000 by June, caused him to panic. Mr Blair's mind was firmly on the general election. Remember Mr Blair, embarrassingly caught on national television cameras discussing his election plans, in Stockholm; his mind was clearly not on the foot and mouth crisis in the United Kingdom. On his return, he took personal control, and ordered the cull of millions of healthy animals. Mr Blair was at this stage told that the government had no legal powers to conduct the cull. Therefore, it was at this point that the term voluntary was hatched.
"Can you imagine Mr Blair and his government trying to introduce emergency powers at the same time as conducting the election? The decision to conduct the 3km cull was a purely political one. The policy had no scientific merit at all.
"This was not the biggest foot and mouth disease outbreak ever, by far, but due to government policy it resulted in the greatest number of animals being killed, often under quite unacceptable circumstances. It was a holocaust driven by economics and politics. The sole objective of Prime Minister Blair was not to upset his plans for the general election, and indeed to conduct the election without controversy. To do this resulted in the most massive massacre of British livestock ever. And I have no doubt there will be many questions to be asked in the future."
Professor Phil Thomas responded, "Thank you for those comments, and further -- I would like to make a general point as to where we are coming from to collect evidence and not to make individual judgements... I should say we do not have the power to judge what was in the minds of politicians. We will look with great interest at your evidence, we have not had a chance to digest it."
The next speaker was Mick Elliot the Director of Safety Services for Cumbria County Council. He was at pains to point out that MAFF/DEFRA failed to provide necessary information to his team. "The emergency planning team frequently failed to obtain information." He also made the point that, "In future there needs to be clear and unambiguous guidance" and reminded us that DEFRA still owe Cumbria County Council the sum of £60,000. This was for such items as disinfectant mats, bio security, disposal of carcasses and so forth.
Then Geoffrey Brown gave an interesting presentation about Hefted flocks of sheep. The main gist of his evidence was, of course, the importance of the hefted flocks, the fact that virtually the world population of Herdwick sheep is found in Cumbria, and the fact that the various hefted sheep breed associations fought to prevent the indiscriminate culling of the irreplaceable hefted flocks.
He gave numbers and details of those that were lost due to the cull. He looked to the future and spoke about plans for rural action zones and the need to involve the hill farmers, and commoners - who were busy lambing as he spoke - in plans for the future. What makes them wary, he pointed out, is the ruthless pursuit of the agri-environmental agreements being driven harder by the government than the ability of the community to make an effective response.
After lunch, there was an opportunity for members of the public to speak, and Rosamond Ridley a journalist from Kentmere spoke very movingly of the disruption to her community. A small village, cut off from the world during the foot and mouth crisis, it developed a degree of social disintegration worse than during the war. As Rosamond pointed out, in the war, at least you knew which side you were on. Notices went up all over the village, and many are still in place, stating FOOT AND MOUTH, KEEP OUT! In addition to being asked to sign a declaration to forego postal deliveries for nearly 10 months, Rosamond personally suffered the harrowing experience of being unable to visit her 83 year old mother, due to strong pressure from friends and relatives not to do so, even when her mother phoned to say that a relative working in animal transportation during the cull, had attempted suicide.
The next speakers to give evidence were Viv Dodd of the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Ken De Vonald of the Federation of Small Businesses and Brian Lightowler of the Small Business Service. It is relevant that many good small businesses have had to give up, since they were unable to withstand the pressure of such a loss of custom as they suffered last year.
At the end of the afternoon session, members of the public were again able to give evidence and Jean Dixon came forward...
JEAN DIXON speaks:
"I let people make comments on the petition sheets. People made comments like 'Kill Blair'! I sent the sheets to the House of Lords to help them with their deliberations over the Animal Health Bill, to help them be aware of public opinion. There has been talk here about farming and business, but not about the people.
"The countryside has become a place of death, where animals are killed in their millions. The Animal Health Bill cloud is hanging over the countryside. Farms are re-stocking but it will take a long time for people to be happy in that environment. People blame the farmers, due to Government spin. People think I'm doing the petition for the farmers, and complain that they think farmers are getting lots of money. The public are led by the nose, by the media.
"When will the government listen to the people? We put them in power. We don't have a government we have a dictatorship...
"I have produced some documents which say what Lords and MPs have said, about the Animal Health Bill. It's interesting to watch peoples faces when they read it. It is hard to believe the government can perpetrate such a cruel policy. No one has mentioned the emotional effect on children. In Yorkshire animals were culled next to schools. It is quite sad to me that the feelings of people have been swept under the carpet.
"It's difficult to find articles in the national press, or anything in soap operas such as Emmerdale Farm, anything about what has happened. It is sad when a satirical magazine has to print the facts. I don't know whether you have seen Not the Foot and Mouth Report published by Private Eye. I can't understand why the church and the RSPCA have done nothing.
"People have condemned this policy as immoral. It is my hope that this inquiry will find this policy is immoral. We need a policy to make all these contingency plans null and void."
TOM GRIFFITH-JONES was the last speaker:
"Following on from that, the following day, our pedigree suckler herd of goats and Anguses were found to have the disease. It still distresses me enormously. What is missed, and what a lot of people don't understand is that for farmers who are looking after their livestock, to lose the animals they are working with is actually like a bereavement of a family member. And what I am hearing from people in Devon is that as people re-stock and they start working with new animals, the whole emotional trauma comes back to them.
"A doctor in Oakhampton, Devon has researched the problems his patients have had, and they have had to employ 4 part-time psychiatric nurses, who are still fully involved in dealing with the psychological problems of people who have lost their stock, or who are otherwise affected. In this doctor's words, they took a disease that was not even life threatening to animals, and it became one that was life threatening to humans. And that is such an absurdity.
"What happened after we lost our animals, was that they came to our home farm and decided that they were going to take the animals there. It became the case which is known as MAFF v Upton.
"The Grunty the pig case. We won that case, and we won it on the basis of proper scientific evidence, which we decided the ministry was not using. And we won it also because we had a sensible judge.
"I am traumatised, but I am disgusted, we must not let any government department behave that way ever again. We needed to win a case so that the ministry could not have the ability to misinform and mislead farmers into action which was not necessary. Hundreds of farmers were able to use the case that we brought, to stop their animals being killed. I am gratified by that.
"Why do we treat foot and mouth as a notifiable disease? I appreciate that it is highly infectious, but there are countries in which this slaughter policy would not be permitted. When there were outbreaks in this country, in the past, down in the West Country, and in Yorkshire; animals infected were not culled, they were isolated. I get irritated by these ill-informed ministers, who insist that this is such a virulent disease.
"I knew the animals on our farm, none of these animals were suffering seriously, nothing that you would not get with other minor virus infections. I asked my father who was brought up on my grandfather's estancio in Uruguay, and they recover. This is absurd. We do not do this with humans, we've never done it, not even with the Black Death.
"I had a meeting with Lord Whitty a couple of months ago, and I said to him, it is your duty to research the other ways of dealing with this disease. His response was surprisingly, an intelligent one. He said yes, you will find your vets will not use homeopathy, but go to France and the vets understand. What Lord Whitty said was that he accepted that yes, homeopathy could be of value, but the problem is that the veterinary profession is where the medical profession was 15 years ago. It was a very perspicacious observation.
"I was in December in Brussels at the conference on control and prevention of foot and mouth disease. On the issue of the killing of all these animals, the director of the FAO in Africa said the rest of the world cannot understand what you lot are playing at. Killing millions of animals, that are perfectly fit for food. When there is starving in the rest of the world. It is not acceptable behaviour. What became clear at that meeting, and it was a great relief to me, was that this must not happen again, and that we must find other ways of dealing with it. And to that end, the FAO and the OIE; international bodies involved in setting the parameters, accepted that there needed to be changes made. The only people out of step at that meeting were our delightful government ministers.
"What should we do? My understanding, by the way, of healthy animals, is not animals that are kept in glass cages where they can't be caught by diseases. My understanding is that healthy animals and that includes healthy humans, are ones that have strong, healthy immune systems to deal with whatever comes at them.
"The Northumberland Inquiry I am told, specified that the proper response to an epidemic of the size that we were witness to last year should be vaccination and not culling. If it is going to remain a notifiable disease it is critical that the diagnosis is made as rapidly as possible. This may not be in Pirbright's interest. They have blocked the use of the system developed at Plum Island, in America. It is readily available. They have failed to accept it as a being a useful system because they have developed their own system and want to get it on the market before anything else is approved.
"The actions in the field must be guided by local circumstances, not directed by mindless bureaucrats in London. That was a problem that we suffered. The ministry abused and failed the rural community.
"Because of what happened to me, I've become involved and set up the UK Rural Business Campaign. People ring me up from the North of Scotland to Cornwall, and some of their stories have brought tears to my eyes. There have been people who have been driven to bankruptcy: Who have lost their houses, because of the way the government has handled this. Maybe it's fortunate that they have been so incompetent, we as the Rural Business Campaign will take them to court. According to the Tourist Board, the loss of income - now that's loss of income, not loss of profit - for the tourist industry was 5 billion pounds.
"The government has to accept responsibility for these businesses, why should they carry it themselves. Why should small family businesses carry it because of the government's decision to treat foot and mouth in this way? The government must pay for that because they have acted negligently. The government must accept that they must carry the can for their responsibility. The Magna Carta still prohibits any government from taking away any part of the property of any individual.
"It seems nonsense, when the rest of the world said we were dirty and didn't want our products, there was a ban on exports, but not on imports. Animals that went on the welfare scheme were perfectly healthy. What nonsense was that? We were importing from abroad. If we put the shutters down, everyone could see we have a problem. We should look very seriously at putting a ban on imports where we have put a ban on exports."
Chairman Professor Phil Thomas thanked him, and said, "I'm not sure we can do justice to the full panoply of what you have raised, as we are not sufficiently informed."
The session came to an end.