HORROR FARM VIDEO CLAIMS
Shocking new evidence about the origins of the 2001 foot and mouth disaster could bolster claims for compensation against the Government, a senior agricultural lawyer has said.
Chris Price, solicitor for the Country Land and Business Association, said a video showing conditions on Bobby Waugh's Northumberland pig farm, where the epidemic is thought to have started, suggested that it should have been closed down by government inspectors.
The video, which emerged last week, was shot on Waugh's farm the day after foot and mouth was discovered there and just one month after he was granted a licence to continue feeding swill to his pigs by government vet Jim Dring.
Mr Price said that the video could bolster claims that failings in the regulatory system were partly responsible for the disastrous foot and mouth outbreak: "We believe certificates for this farm to continue feeding should never have been issued. It appears that no proper investigation into the events has ever been carried out and this video seems to confirm it."
Earlier this year, the WMN revealed that Mr Dring himself questioned whether he should have renewed Waugh's licence to feed swill to his pigs.
In a report that was withheld from the official "lessons learned" inquiry by the Government, Mr Dring said the foot and mouth crisis "would never have come about" if his inspection of Waugh's farm in the weeks leading up to the outbreak had been "more rigorous".
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insists Mr Dring did "all that can reasonably be expected of an inspecting officer" when he visited Waugh's farm on January 24, 2001, to renew his swill-feeding licence.
A spokesman said: "Any deterioration in the conditions was the fault of the farmer - that is why he was prosecuted and convicted."
However several farming experts who have seen the video (which was shot on February 23, 2001) believe the conditions shown are so appalling that Waugh's farm cannot possibly have been in a decent state at the time of the inspection.
Any evidence that suggested Government negligence could encourage compensation claims from the thousands of businesses affected by the foot and mouth crisis. Although farmers whose animals were slaughtered were compensated, many others who faced draconian trading conditions were not. Many related agricultural and tourism businesses also lost out. But all previous legal bids have failed to show that the Government was responsible for the disease outbreak.
Mr Price's comments will heighten government embarrassment about the video. Ministers have already been forced to admit that the video, like Mr Dring's report, was not submitted to the official inquiry into the disaster chaired by Dr Iain Anderson.
The Animal Health Minister, Ben Bradshaw, insisted that the video contained "nothing new". Although he admitted he had not seen it, he said it had been shown at Waugh's trial on foot and mouth-related charges.
Opposition MPs have challenged the Government to reopen the inquiry, so that it can consider the video. The Lib-Dem rural affairs spokesman, Andrew George, said he believed the inquiry could have reached different conclusions if it had been able to see the video.
Mr George, MP for St Ives, has written to the Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett, asking her to ensure Dr Anderson is shown the video and is allowed to comment on it. He said the video made it clear there had been a regulatory failure of some kind in relation to Waugh's farm.