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Western Morning News

HOWARD PLEDGE ON VET REPORT 'COVER-UP'

JASON GROVES LONDON EDITOR<

09:00 - 02 April 2004

Tory leader Michael Howard yesterday pledged to pursue the Government over the cover-up of a controversial report in which a state vet claimed he could have prevented the foot and mouth disaster.TORY leader Michael Howard yesterday pledged to pursue the Government over the cover-up of a controversial report in which a state vet claimed he could have prevented the foot and mouth disaster.

In an exclusive interview with the WMN yesterday Mr Howard said he was disturbed by the Government's handling of the report in which state vet Jim Dring said the 2001 crisis "would never have come about" if his inspection of Bobby Waugh's Northumberland pig farm in the weeks leading up to the outbreak had been "more rigorous".

Mr Dring's report was withheld from the Government's "lessons learned" inquiry into the events of 2001 - a decision Farms Minister Larry Whitty has now described as "regrettable".

Mr Howard said he was concerned that Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett may have "misled" MPs by describing Mr Dring's report as "notes that he made for himself" - giving the impression it had not been intended for consideration by the inquiry chaired by Dr Iain Anderson. Lord Whitty later acknowledged that it was clear Mr Dring wanted his personal statement to go to the inquiry in some form".

The Tory leader also said he was unhappy with the handling of the affair by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, once the existence of Mr Dring's memo was revealed by the WMN last month. Initially Defra insisted there was "nothing new" in the 12,000-word report, which it described as an "aide memoire". The department has since been forced into a series of climbdowns over the issue.

Mr Howard likened the affair to the Government cover-ups over lax immigration controls which yesterday forced the resignation of Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes.

"This is yet another example of a very familiar pattern with this Government," he said. "When something is put to them which is inconvenient first they deny it, then they try and cover it up and finally they have to admit it. We have just had it over Beverley Hughes and immigration. It is exactly the same thing."

Mr Howard said that he and his Shadow Cabinet colleagues would now pursue the issue when MPs return to the Commons after the Easter recess.

Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Theresa May has already renewed calls for a full public inquiry into the 2001 disaster.