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INQUIRY 'SHOULD HAVE HAD MEMO'

09:00 - 06 March 2004 A memo written by a Government vet claiming that he could have taken action to prevent the 2001 foot and mouth disaster should have been made publicly available to the Lessons Learned inquiry, Westcountry farmers said yesterday.

Their call followed yesterday's WMN exclusive which revealed veterinary officer Jim Dring's fears that had he been more rigorous in an inspection at the Northumberland farm where FMD was discovered he might have been able to halt the spread of the disease.

Mr Dring prepared a memo for submission to the Anderson Lessons Learned inquiry, which MAFF's successor body, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said yesterday had only been an "aide memoire" and was not submitted to the inquiry.

A Defra spokesman said the department had already commissioned its own note on the origins of the outbreak. He also pointed out that if the Dring memo had been made public there were concerns it would prejudice the legal action that was brought against farmer Bobby Waugh by Northumberland County Council. The spokesman added: "The Government was fully committed to helping the Lessons Learned inquiry in any way possible."

Yesterday, Martin Hann, the chairman of Devon NFU, said questions over what was done with the memo highlighted the need for a full public inquiry to have been held. He said: "This document should have been in the public domain much earlier, then we would have seen the proof of the Government's failings, which we in the agricultural world always knew were there."

Prof Bob Lee, of Cardiff University's research centre into business and sustainability, said it was unlikely Mr Dring's admissions would open the way for renewed claims for compensation.

"Anybody whose stock was slaughtered would have been compensated anyway," he said.

"Uncompensated losses, such as those in the tourist industry, will not qualify. The problem is that the losses we are talking about are economic losses. The law doesn't allow you to recover that."