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MINISTER'S DRAMATIC U-TURN ON DRING REPORT

JASON GROVES

09:00 - 17 March 2004 
Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw last night made a dramatic U-turn over a controversial report in which a Government vet claims he could have prevented the 2001 foot and mouth disaster. Mr Bradshaw announced that the Government would now publish the two-year-old report by the Government vet Jim Dring, in which he says the foot and mouth 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".

The decision comes amid mounting pressure on the Government to explain why the report was withheld from the official "lessons learned" report into the disaster chaired by Dr Iain Anderson.

In an angry statement, Mr Bradshaw hit out at the WMN and others in the media for "highly misleading and mischievous" reporting of Mr Dring's report.

But he gave no explanation of why the report had been withheld from the Anderson Inquiry. And he dismissed calls to reopen the inquiry so that the evidence of Mr Dring's report could be considered properly.

The report was published on Defra's website last night. But it was missing its cover sheet, in which Mr Dring makes clear that his report was intended to go to the Anderson Inquiry.

In a parliamentary debate on swill feeding, Mr Bradshaw said: "In recent days there has been some highly misleading and mischievous press coverage based on selective quoting from a personal statement made in the autumn of 2001 by a local vet, Jim Dring, about his contacts with the Waughs' farm in the run up to the foot and mouth outbreak.

"I have decided to publish Mr Dring's personal testimony in full, so that people can read it and make up their own minds.

"Far from showing any incompetence on Mr Dring's or the then Maff's part, I believe it shows a dedicated and conscientious vet dealing with some very difficult customers who went out of their way to conceal dangerous and illegal activity on their farm.

"To suggest that Mr Dring was responsible for the foot and mouth outbreak, as some have sought to, is like saying that a police officer who misses a piece of evidence at the scene of a crime is responsible for that crime rather than the criminal himself."

Western Morning News Editor Barrie Williams last night defended the coverage of the report, which was leaked to the WMN earlier this month.

Mr Williams said: "It is sheer nonsense for Ben Bradshaw to describe Western Morning News coverage of this issue as highly misleading and mischievous. Far from quoting selectively from Mr Dring's document, we are in the process of publishing it in full, with the third part appearing today.

"In reporting Mr Dring's admission that the foot and mouth epidemic could have been prevented if his inspection of the Waughs' premises had been more rigorous, and his conclusion that staff shortages at the time caused him to cut corners, we have attributed nothing to him which was not in his own words. We have never suggested that Mr Dring was responsible for the foot and mouth outbreak, and Mr Bradshaw himself is misleading if he is implying that we have. Indeed, we have stressed very strongly that this is not about Mr Dring, and that he should not be made a scapegoat.

"Our comments on the issue have not been directed at Jim Dring at all, but at the Government for not bringing his crucial evidence out in public before the Anderson Inquiry - from which we were led to believe nothing would be hidden.

"Is Mr Bradshaw seriously suggesting that when the WMN discovered all this a couple of weeks ago we should have kept quiet about it - as his Government did for three years?"

Angela Browning, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, also defended the WMN's coverage and called for the Anderson Inquiry to be reopened to investigate Mr Dring's report. Mrs Browning said: "I have read Mr Dring's report and the WMN's reporting of it is certainly not misleading. "This is not a question of anyone wanting to blame Mr Dring and it is not a political game. It is about getting a definitive answer on how the 2001 FMD started and ensuring that its lessons are fully learned."


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PIG SWILL FEEDERS WERE TREATED UNFAIRLY' - MP

09:00 - 17 March 2004

The Government must bear part of the blame for the 2001 foot and mouth disaster after failing to implement and enforce strict European rules on the feeding of swill to livestock, MPs were told yesterday.

Opening a Commons debate on the Government's decision to ban swill feeding in the wake of crisis, the Conservative MP Boris Johnson said ministers had treated the UK's 62 licensed swill feeders unfairly.

Mr Johnson said the Government had failed to implement fully the provisions of a European directive on swill feeding, which would have prevented the granting of a swill feeding licence to the Northumberland farmer Bobby Waugh, whose Heddon-on-the-Wall farm is where the outbreak is thought to have started. He pointed out that the Government's own vet Jim Dring had acknowledged that a "more rigorous" inspection of Waugh's farm would have led to him having his licence removed.

Mr Johnson said: "It is precisely because the Government did not err on the side of caution in implementing the directive, and in enforcing the law, that the disaster took place, and the Government must bear the responsibility."

Mr Johnson said the swill ban had forced some swill feeders out of business. He said there was a clear case for Government compensation for those whose costly equipment had suddenly been rendered redundant.

Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw defended the swill ban. Although properly treated swill is safe, Mr Bradshaw said the 2001 disaster had highlighted the potential danger of feeding untreated swill to pigs. He said the risk posed by the practice was now considered too great to allow it to continue.

Mr Bradshaw said that paying compensation to the swill feeders would set a "precedent" that the Government was not prepared to contemplate. He denied that the EU directive on swill feeding had been improperly implemented. He said it was wrong to blame the Government for the 2001 disaster.