From David Hutchings, Exeter 382594, October 12, 2001

FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY - FRIDAY LATE PM

RSPCA inspectors saw lambs literally drowning in mud during the foot and mouth crisis, the Devon inquiry in public heard this afternoon.

Regional superintendent John Tresidder said the outbreak of foot and mouth caused animal welfare problems on an "unprecedented scale."

His colleague Steven Donahue said there were some cases where farmers had been refused permission to move their animals even a short distance.

Those decisions were made by someone a long way away with no knowledge of the situation on the ground.

In his view, disease control would not have been compromised by allowing animals to move a short distance to a clean field.

Supt Tresidder told the inquiry, at County Hall in Exeter, that disease control had to be the top priority. But animal welfare also had to be top of the list.

"Disease control made it necessary but there was no contingency plan to care for these animals while they were suffering. I have not seen anything like it in 30 years," he said.

In some cases the RSPCA had to step in and slaughter flocks of sheep to put them out of their suffering.

Supt Tresidder said of the RSPCA's telephone operators had been in tears after talking to farmers about their plight.

"Farmers are self-sufficient. They did not want to turn to a charity but they had to," he said. He warned of an impending welfare crisis this winter.

"Feed is in very short supply, prices are soaring, farmers are broke and short of food," he said.

The RSPCA was hoping to help set up a feed bank with good supplies of straw and silage to which farmers in need could turn.

Devon vet Phil Davies, the senior vice president of the Western Counties Veterinary Association, called for the "medieval" scenes of funeral pyres never to be seen again.

"We need to have a contingency plan to act quickly, to bury animals quickly instead of the medieval funeral pyres across the countryside that just rubbed people's faces into the dirt," he said.

His association believed there needed to be a local vet on the ground to aid communications to make sure the "poor management" of the crisis did not happen again.

"There needed to be someone on the ground who could make decisions and provide interpretation, based on local circumstances," he said.

The crisis was poorly managed partly due to decades of pruning in the State Veterinary Service. Its numbers were very small and general morale was very low.

The pro-vice Chancellor of Plymouth University, Clare Broom, told the inquiry that it was estimated the crisis had cost the Seale Hayne Faculty of Land, Food and Leisure and its partner college, Bicton, around #500,000 in loss of income and staff costs.

 

From Peter Doyle, Exeter 383226, October 12, 2001

THE FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY -- FRI EARLY PM

"CARNAGE by computer" was how a Mid Devon vet speaking at today's hearing of the Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry described the slaughtering of livestock by contiguous cull.

Wendy Vere told the hearing at County Hall, Exeter, chaired by Prof Ian Mercer CBE, a culling policy driven by epidemiological computer modelling didn't work on the ground.

Mrs Vere, who runs a practice in Morchard Bishop, near Crediton, said the policy was to control the spread of the disease by slaughtering livestock on holdings neighbouring infected farms within 48 hours of a confirmed case.

"That's absolutely fine if you're sitting in front of a computer, but it didn't work on the ground. It was carnage by computer because in reality the animals on a neighbouring holding could be many miles away from an infected farm.

"The computer would say all these holdings have to be taken out without taking account that livestock miles away from the infected premises were no more a disease risk than any other animal in the county."

Mrs Vere said farmers had just three hours to appeal against a culling order. "One farmer described it to me; `I didn't feel in control of my own destiny.'

In her written submission she described how one of her clients collapsed with an angina attack when MAFF officials telephoned to say they were coming to start a contiguous cull.

She told the Inquiry that she had been given samples of unburnt skin and hair which had fallen onto the busy North Devon Link Road two miles downwind of a pyre at an infected premises.

Asked for her assessment of the disease risk from these remains, she replied: "100 per cent".

She said the motorist who had passed the samples to her had said there was so much smoke and ash drifting across the road that visibility was severely compromised.

Mrs Vere added that the remains were blown onto the village of Knowstone where later a number of Foot and Mouth cases were reported. "And I'm not at all surprised by that, " she said.

In contrast, the clean up operation had been over zealous she argued.

She told the Inquiry that the supervisor of one clean up operation had told a farmer to pick up all the wool snagged on the barb wire fences. She added: "To which he replied, `And do you want me to get up in the tree and pick it out of the birds' nests as well?' The supervisor shut up at that point."

Questioned by the Inquiry Chairman as to why greater use of local vets in tackling the outbreak was not made by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, she replied: "I have no idea why there was such a reluctance to use local vets. I got so frustrated trying to get answers out of the local MAFF office that I eventually sent my questions to London, that was in April. I didn't even get an acknowledgement until I got a partial answer in August."

She said better use should be made of local vets in any future animal disease outbreak - an approach used in Australia and backed up with regular training for local vets. "We are already trained to deal with anthrax and tuberculosis, so why not use us as local veterinary inspectors to deal with local disease and also to prioritise local welfare cases. We also have better knowledge of local conditions so we could have speeded up decisions on which animals presented a real risk of developing Foot and Mouth."

The Inquiry was told there was a great need to make use of global expertise in the scientific domain, but she claimed that the approach to this outbreak had been characterised by "a behind closed doors" mentality.

Earlier the Inquiry had heard from Roger Rivett, the Head of Devon County Council's Trading Standards Service. He explained that Trading Standards were the nation's animal health "policemen" and their role was to enforce animal health legislation.

He said that in the context of the Foot and Mouth outbreak Trading Standards role was to serve movement restriction notices on the advice of MAFF, to investigate illegal movements of livestock and added to that was a new role of issuing farmers with licences to move livestock. He said the service had issued 24,000 licences since the start of the outbreak and described it as "a heavy burden".

Mr Rivett pointed out that the demands of helping to tackle the outbreak had had a considerable impact on the Service's consumer protection and advice work. He commented: "In recovering from this crisis we will have to work very hard to redress the damage that has been done to our image in the eyes of the non-farming community."

He told the Inquiry he believed that at a local level staff from the various agencies tried very hard to do their best by working together, but he expressed concern that the Trading Standards Service was not given a role in planning the response to the outbreak. Mr Rivett said it was clear that MAFF's strategic planning and to a lesser degree operational planning was taking place elsewhere.

He said accountability for actions therefore appeared to be quite remote from the actions themselves, causing frustrations both amongst partner agencies and the farming community.

Commenting on communication with the public, Mr Rivett said: "Although numerous attempts were made during the crisis to improve on this aspect, the Ministry failed to shift the public perception that they were secretive and, frankly, arrogant in the way they were managing the response to the outbreak. One of the reasons for this, in my view, and a major difference between local and central government seemed to be the lack of local accountability - which seems to be fostered by the heavy central influence on the Ministry HQ in London."

From David Hutchings, Exeter 382594, October 12, 2001

FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY - FRIDAY AM

ONLY one farmer seriously suggested that culled cattle should be buried on his land, the Devon foot and mouth inquiry was told today.

Martin Booth, from the Environment Agency, said there were a lot of general statements made about burial being preferable to burning.

"In the event we only had one farmer coming forward and saying that was a possibility on his land," said Mr Booth.

He told the inquiry at County Hall in Exeter that, at the start of the outbreak, the agency's knowledge of ground water and the local geology indicated that burial was not going to be an option in most of the infected areas.

After discussions with other interested groups, the Environment Agency agreed that, where a farmer said burial was possible on his land, that would be looked at as a first option.

Geoff Bateman, from the Environment Agency, said burial had been the standard disposal method in the 1967/68 outbreak of foot and mouth.

But there was evidence that private water supplies to individual farms had been affected by leachate from those burials.

"Our understanding of ground water and ground water pollution problems has increased and so has the legislation," he said.

"Our role was to protect Devon and the interests of Devon people.

"Where it was possible to bury, burial was one of the options used."

Mr Booth said only one farmer actually came forward to ask for his culled cattle to be buried on his land although burials had been approved by the agency on 10 occasions.

"That is a signal of the rarity with which we found conditions which would not lead to knock-on environmental problems afterwards," he said.

Commenting on the controversial proposal to use the site at Ashmoor for disposal of culled cattle, Mr Bateman said the Environment Agency did not want the project to go ahead.

But he said the agency had told MAFF and the Ministry of Defence the standard of liner that would have to be put in to prevent any leaching.

The agency's Malcolm Chudley told the inquiry they had investigated 30 cases of run-off from culled cattle stored on farms.

In each case the impact on the environment was very minor, he said.

Dartmoor National Park officer Nick Atkinson said there should not be blanket closures of the Moor in the event of another foot and mouth outbreak.

The authority had comprehensively closed access to Dartmoor at the start of the crisis when that was felt to be the right and proper action.

"But as the months went by and guidance evolved, that would not be the decision we would take now," he said.

"Closing off access to people to enjoy the Devon environment is what has affected the Devon economy."

Dr Atkinson said farmers on Dartmoor were still faced with all manner of restrictions on moving their stock. Yet they saw the public now able freely to access the Moor.

He said one of the positive outcomes of the crisis was that the authority would not have to argue as hard as it had in the past about the economic worth of the environment.

"I think there is a much greater realisation of that now," he said.



 

October 11, 2001 FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY - THURS PM

 

CATTLE suspected of having foot and mouth spent days roaming around a Devon village when they bolted after an attempted MAFF cull, today's inquiry at County Hall heard.

The animals could have spread the disease onto other farms, it was claimed.

Representatives from Knowstone Parish Council near South Molton told the foot and mouth inquiry of the events in the village earlier this year. They said MAFF officials arrived at one farm to cull cattle and told the farmer to go away and leave them to deal with the situation.

William Norman, from the parish council, said the animals had been on the farm all their lives and knew the farmer's voice. When they were confronted with men in white suits flapping their arms around, they became frightened. Five cattle were shot but another 19 bolted and "spread themselves" around the parish.

The next day after he had milked his own cows, Mr Norman said he spotted one of the cattle in a field by itself. He went into the village to find a MAFF official and asked him to come and shoot it. Nothing had happened by lunchtime and he went and asked again. Nothing happened by 4pm and the animal was not finally shot until 8.15pm.

"It had stood in the field on its own all day, it was so traumatised," said Mr Norman. "I have never seen an animal like it."

Mr Norman said 15 more animals were shot in a field next to the village. "Nobody could miss it in the village," he said.

Another animal was shot at on the Sunday and probably on the Monday as well but was not actually killed until the Tuesday. "Some took four or five shots to kill. It was chaos and a shambles," he said.

There was now real mistrust of MAFF's successor DEFRA among the villagers. Mr Norman told inquiry chairman Professor Ian Mercer that six farms had been infected in the village - some possibly by cattle driven out by MAFF in the attempted cull.

David Morgans, from the parish council, accused MAFF of bullying tactics. At one stage there were five van loads of riot police in Knowstone, he said.

MAFF arrived at farms early in the morning and said they would employ the police to make the farmers let them cull their stock. But when the police arrived they confirmed they did not have any power to do that.

The inquiry heard that the whole parish was severely affected and it would take a long time for farms, businesses, parish events and services to recover.

Another witness, Ken Lancaster, from the Kennerleigh Parish Meeting, said people had not come into the village during the crisis. "It is important to a small community like ours that people come in for fund-raising activities," he said. "But it was almost as if some people had disappeared from the face of the earth. Activity ceased. "We felt as if we were under seige. I am not a farmer but I felt very much the siege mentality."

Mr Lancaster said many farmers in the parish felt there should have been some sort of local co-ordinators. Someone with knowledge of local farmers and local communities could have co-ordinated things such as the bio-mats. "But it was left to individual farmers," he said. "Farmers felt if there was somebody closer to them who could translate, interpret, advise and - the world kept coming up - reassure, someone they could turn to, that would have been a great help."

 

October 11, 2001 FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY - THURSDAY AM

"TV is in the business of pictures. Burning pyres were a legitimate news event and became the single most vivid image of Foot and Mouth. It would be naove to think these images would not get shown."

These are the words of Chris Foreman, Senior Output Editor for Carlton TV, in his evidence to the morning session of today's Foot and Mouth Inquiry.

"Journalists try to be impartial and simply tell a story. We consistently have to try to strike a balance between showing things as they really are and doing something gratuitous," he said. "Editorial decision have to be taken and we don't pretend we get it right all of the time, but throughout we have tried to be as responsible and sensitive to the situation as possible."

Mr Foreman was one of several witnesses representing the media during the morning to strongly criticise the information vacuum created by the poor handling of communications by the lead agency during the crisis, MAFF.

"Most of the time we couldn't carry the stories we wanted to because the information, media facilities or people were simply not available," said Mr Foreman. "I am very surprised that there wasn't a game plan in place. In any future emergency, effective communications including the new realities of the mass media must be taken into account.

"In the end, those organisations who used the media positively during what has been a very negative situation have enhanced their image.

Those that didn't have severely damaged their reputations."

The criticism of official communications was backed up by Graham Gilbert, Managing Director of Great Western Radio Group (Gemini, Orchard FM, Plymouth Sound, Lantern FM, South Hams Radio).

He accused MAFF representatives of being "Unresponsive, curt, unwilling and evasive."

He said: "I couldn't believe how poor communication was. Information was haphazard, often vague or contradictory, or simply just refused.

"The NFU was the most helpful source of information but there should have been an 'Anthony Gibson' acting for MAFF.

"What was really required was a structure with a single point of regular, good quality information.

"It is essential that the lead agency, whoever it may be, plays the role of lead agency. This needs planning and forethought and must include communications with the public using all available media," he said.

Mr Gilbert also criticised the Regional Development Agency and South West Tourism for their decision not to co-fund a heavily subsidised and targeted radio advertising campaign aimed at an audience of 7 million in areas like the West Midlands with the message "Devon is Open".

"I got the impression that the RDA and SW Tourism felt the more damage the industry was seen to suffer this year, the more funds may be available in the future," he said. "It was Devon County Council who recovered the situation and jointly funded the campaign with us."

During the morning the Inquiry also heard from Devon County Council's own Communication and Information Section who described how offers of assistance to MAFF in handling communications were totally ignored.

"This was symptomatic of a system which was totally overwhelmed," said Peter Doyle, Head of Media and Public Relations for the Council.

October 10th FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY -- WED PM

"THE pain and fear in our community was palpable. You could feel it coming over the phone."

This was the picture of a community at the heart of the Foot and Mouth outbreak painted by a parish curate at today's hearing of the Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry.

Former Royal Navy nuclear submariner Rev Paul Fitzpatrick told the Inquiry, chaired by Prof Ian Mercer CBE, at County Hall, Exeter, that sometimes night-time searches had to be organised to find farmers who had wandered off because they needed to be alone with their thoughts.

Rev Fitzpatrick, who is a member of a team ministry, covering a 92-square mile area around Northmoor, near Okehampton, said: "I would get distressed phone calls at night from people whose husbands had gone out and they didn't know where they were. "Very often it would happen at night when farmers went out for a look around and a last check on their livestock. That was the time when attitudes would change and there would be growing silences. "

Devon men are not known to be emotional and communicative and it is very easy to close in on themselves. If you are not communicating with your partner it becomes very, very scary at the time. We actually had to organise searches for farmers because their partners were so worried about them. It wasn't that they were going to commit suicide, but they needed time to think.

"I didn't actually press the panic button immediately and a couple of phone calls would usually find them, but it was surprising how many times that happened."

Rev Fitzpatrick told the Inquiry that during the outbreak all of his ministry was conducted over the phone because he couldn't actually visit people on their farms due to the Foot and Mouth control restrictions. "There were times when I was very, very worried about people, very worried indeed," he said.

The Inquiry heard that clergy of different denominations worked together to help the community and support each other through the hard times. He praised the support he and the wider community had received from the Bishop of Exeter and other senior clergy from the start of the outbreak.

Rev Fitzpatrick said the crisis had taught the importance of maintaining strong local networks between agencies and also that people in rural communities need friendly faces they can trust.

"Strangers don't work in the countryside. There is a need for faces to be known and trusted. People need to know where the boundaries are and how far you can be trusted. The majority of people who phoned me did not attend church regularly but called me because I was a known face."

However, the Inquiry was told there is a great need for befriending and professional psychiatric services in the countryside. Rev Fitzpatrick said: "There is a lot of isolation and psychiatric ill health that exists in the countryside and that is compounded by loneliness and financial worries. It is almost like having mud shovelled on your head and sooner or later you are going to go down."

As a Londoner coming to rural Devon, he said he had had no idea that rural deprivation still existed and confessed he had great difficulty helping his relatives in London understand the full impact that Foot and Mouth had had on people's lives.

"If my own family don't fully understand it what must that say about the rest of our country?" he asked. He expressed concern about families who were losing farms that had been held by them for generations because small Devon farms could not provide a viable future for sons or daughters. He said losing a farm was "very akin to the grieving process" but the effects would last for a very long time and long term care was desperately needed. "The crisis has hurt people very deeply and touched their lives in a way I haven't seen for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

 

October 10th FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY -- WEDNESDAY AM

THE Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry, chaired by Ian Mercer CBE at County Hall, this morning heard from representatives of community groups directly touched by the outbreak of foot and mouth and how their role was vital in offering support and advice during the crisis.

Although the 39 clubs across the county organised by the Devon Federation of Young Farmers decided not to meet during the outbreak, Mark Goodman, County Organiser explained how the contact among young people continued and developed into a system of support and friendship.

"80 per cent of our members live on a holding and those not directly affected by foot and mouth felt great sympathy for those who were. It also helped those outside of affected areas to understand what others were going through by talking about the situation and sharing information."

When questioned about the career choices facing young farmers, Mr Goodman said he felt many now had to rethink their futures as the farming life they had grown up with was placed in jeopardy. "Farming was the bedrock of employment in rural areas and young people are now faced with a struggle to find jobs and a real struggle to find homes and have to look seriously at moving out of an area they have lived in all their lives," said Mr Goodman.

This point was reiterated by Les Heywood, Vice Chairman of the Federation. "Many small family farms will now struggle and it will be a case of the survival of the strongest. And on a personal level the financial package will not be there to encourage young people to stay on. "

Add to this the social impact foot and mouth has had on rural communities and you can see why many more young people are now choosing to move away."

The Federation is now facing problems of its own through a loss of earnings during the summer, which would normally have been their busiest time for fundraising and a reduction in the number of volunteers.

"Understandably volunteers now have to think about themselves first and foremost and they are irreplaceable, "explained Mr Goodman. "Our clubs are heavily involved in supporting the community and giving back funds to local charities and all will suffer as a result of foot and mouth."

The focus for the Federation now is to get the clubs up and running once more as young people still want to talk about and share their experiences.

Black Torrington Primary School was at the centre of an area affected by foot and mouth and Headteacher Mark Raven told the Inquiry how the staff and 24 pupils coped during the outbreak.

Mr Raven explained how they were "living and breathing foot and mouth " and that "everyone felt the pressure and uncertainty of coping with the disease." "There were times when we had to talk about death with the children and give them time to express their feelings, be that through artwork or words.

The children seem to have come through it alright but we are all still concerned about how it may affect them in the future." Mr Raven expressed concern over the lack of available information both from central Government and the Local Education Authority.

"I found the lack of direction and advice most disappointing. People were looking to the school for information and we couldn't provide them with any as we were not getting any support ourselves. "

We felt totally isolated and were receiving no feedback whatsoever from the LEA. We also contacted MAFF who were at best vague with their advice and the information on Government websites was not specific enough for our situation."

Instead, Mr Raven discussed matters with fellow headteachers and the Governors of the school. A decision was reached to close the school for a week to show support for those directly affected by the disease and in order for families to be together at such a difficult time. The issue of transporting children to and from the school was of particular concern to Mr Raven and the Governors as confusion spread over whether the disease could be carried on tyres.

Mr Raven was also deeply concerned about being unable to acquire supplies of the recommended form of disinfectant.

The Inquiry also heard from Barbara Thomas, Vice Chairman, Devon Association of Parish Councils who explained that Parish Councils are now viewed as central to rural communities by the Government and how important their role is in planning for the future.

"Parish Councils must be consulted in the early stages of any emergency," said Mrs Thomas. "We are left to deal with the lack of information, people's fears and the wish for knowledge from people on the ground." Mrs Thomas admitted that Parish Council emergency plans had been left on the "back shelf" and refreshing them needed to be "top of the agenda".

 

October 9th FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY SUMMARY - TUESDAY PM

DEVON desperately needs more Government money to market its rural areas to visitors following foot and mouth, the chief executive of South West Tourism, Malcolm Bell, said today.

Mr Bell told the Foot and Mouth Inquiry at County Hall that most of his marketing funds had been used up to promote the coastal areas of Devon this year.

"We had to do the damage limitation for the resorts and coastal areas," he said. That damage limitation had worked for the coastal areas and marketing would work for Devon's rural tourism.

"I honestly believe we could get the business back next year with effective marketing. But it will not drift back on its own," said Mr Bell. "I am acutely worried that once customers start going somewhere else, to get them back will take a lot of marketing and public relations. With effective, clever use of marketing it could come back very quickly."

Mr Bell said he feared that financial support would not be forthcoming for tourism businesses because there was a view that if one operator went bust, then someone else would come along and buy the business.

"That could be the cold heart of the Treasury and why it is so difficult to get support for them," he said.

"The real worry is that foot and mouth could rapidly become yesterday's problem. The challenge for some businesses is to survive until next Easter."

Mr Bell said it was a sad observation but Devon could benefit from the atrocities in America on September 11 and the current action in Afghanistan. "People will feel safer in areas with a dispersed population," he said. "If they are walking the coastal path or up on the Moor, they will feel incredibly safe."

Mr Bell said, if there was another outbreak of foot and mouth, different ways had to be found of tackling it. The images of "barbaric killing and primeval disposal" of cattle and sheep carcasses had been transmitted around the world. "People thought they had gone back to the Dark Ages," he said.

That was not acceptable to many people.

John Fowler, whose company runs 14 holiday parks in Devon and Cornwall, said he had #1.5 million worth of empty accommodation this year compared to the previous three years. He said official bodies had been too slow in telling potential tourists what the true situation was.

"The public got the idea that Devon and Cornwall was closed," he said. "They were told by some official bodies not to come. "They telephoned us to get their money back and we took a couple of minutes to tell them we were not closed. "As far as the media and the public were concerned, it was essential to get the story over quickly and it was not done.

"I would hope Devon County Council might take the lead to set up a body to speak up quickly with the right information for the public and the media." Carol Hutchings, the chair of the South Devon Tourism Association which has almost 125 members in Teignbridge, said: "Our first concern was the lack of information. There was nowhere to go.

"The national park was discouraging unnecessary travel on the Moor. From the end of February we hardly saw a visitor, not just tourists, but people locally shut their gates and did not come out. "For a long time, certainly the whole of March, there was a dreadful air of panic. The publicity was very bad and it was also badly handled.

"Bad news sells newspapers and people watch television and it did not improve. There were very negative images and there were no positive images." She said she thought the majority of her members would survive but they would be carrying more debt through the winter. The acting head of economic development for Devon County Council, Colin Lomax, said he feared the effects of foot and mouth would become apparent in the unemployment figures this winter.

"There has been no direct impact on the unemployment figures over the summer but I suspect we will have problems over the winter," he said. There were two reasons why the effects of the crisis had not shown up in the figures so far. Firstly a lot of tourist operations were small businesses with largely self-employed workers who did not feature in the figures. Secondly most tourist operations achieved their income during the summer season to keep them going through the winter. That may not have been possible this year.

Mr Lomax said it was vital that the various agencies in the region worked out common figures for forecasts of job losses. Devon County Council's predictions, based on University of Exeter figures, were for foot and mouth to account for the loss of 7,800 jobs over 12 months.

The Regional Development Agency had predicted under 2,000 job losses based on University of Plymouth figures. "It looks very bad to the public if we are quoting different figures, even if they are forecasts," he said. "We need to have an agreement with the RDA on forecasting models. That is very, very important indeed. Personally I thought the 2,000 figure was very light."

 

 

 

 

October 9th FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY - TUESDAY AM

MORE local flexibility and local decision making could be the key to better handling emergency situations such as an outbreak of Foot and Mouth in the future. This was the view of representatives from Clinton Devon Estates, Devon's second biggest landowner, presenting evidence today to the Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry.

The Inquiry, chaired by Pro Ian Mercer CBE at County Hall, Exeter was told by John Varley, Estates Director for Clinton Devon Estates of a string of problems created by a poor command and control structure during the outbreak.

"Someone needed to take a grip on the situation and it was clear that there was far more that could have been done at a local level to better manage the outbreak than was allowed to happen," he said.

"What we really needed was someone to take central government guidance, deploy local resources quickly and strongly represent the local view on the ground back to the decision makers."

"Getting accurate information and providing well-grounded feedback is critical to this whole process," he said.

Answering questions on detailed written evidence presented to the inquiry, Mr Varley and his colleagues Land Agent John Baine and Chief Accountant David Cobb gave a wide ranging view of the handling of the outbreak and the impact on the business of the Estate.

This included describing the frustration and emotional strain on tenant farmers, the difficulties associated with licensing the movement of animals and in accessing emergency funding. But a major theme was how the situation was allowed to get out of control and the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in the local response.

Specific criticism was levelled at the failure to call on military assistance earlier in the outbreak. When the military were deployed in Devon this was in the form of a Major of the Military Police. One of the reasons for this was thought to be the lack of availability of a brigade in Devon. This did not however correspond with the level of support, intelligence and communications infrastructure given to Cumbria where an Army Brigadier set up HQ during the dispute.

"There was also some evidence of inter-service rivalry," said Mr Varley. "If this ever happens again we must be able to call on all available resources and capabilities - Naval and Marine."

Mr Varley also believes that more thought is needed urgently on the political structures needed to best manage such a situation in the future.

"It was clear that Government Ministers, however well intentioned, had a lack of understanding of the impact on the ground," he said. "This was in some part due to a lack of effective representation and feedback. "More powers need to be given to the County Council to take unilateral action in emergency situations," he said. "The County and regional bodies could have a far greater role to play in offering leadership and practical management in such a situation although I accept that this has major resource implications in order to maintain such a sustained effort."

Particular praise was given to the management of the process of the closure and subsequent re-opening of Public Rights of Way in Devon which involved many local stakeholders and landowners. "This was an exceptionally effective and well-managed process from start to finish," said Mr Varley.

Questioned on the future of the countryside in Devon, Mr Varley agreed that the future will have to be very different but that, despite commercial pressures, Clinton Devon Estates was fundamentally committed to agriculture, forestry and the good management of the land.

He expressed concern however over the imposition of a simplistic vision expressed by some in 'positions of power' which has not been thought through or scrutinised fully.

"We are aware that we have the chance to be the test-bed for future development and, as a mini-rural economy, the Estate is committed to engaging in debate and to getting the right solutions."

Other presentations heard during the morning included the National Trust and Taste of the West. Alex Reader of the National Trust expressed deep concern at the over-reaction by all parties in closing down the countryside and public rights of way and the lack of contingency plans for such an operation.

"There was and is considerable ignorance over how the disease is spread and major pressure to close down the countryside. "With hindsight, as the disease progressed, it became clearer that visitors were not a significant factor and therefore some parts of the countryside and vital paths such as the South West Coast path were closed unnecessarily.

"Although this was understandable in an atmosphere of caution, perhaps it would have been better to have applied a risk assessment model to close those paths and areas that could have had a direct impact on the spread of the disease rather than a blanket ban."

Diane Letheridge of Taste of the West told the Inquiry of the work to market produce from Devon and the South West Region to major retailers across the UK and abroad. Better marketing of quality local produce and challenging the 'dirty' image of British food clearly has a major role to play in recovery from Foot and Mouth.

"This is hampered," she said, "by the South West having a fraction of the budgets of other areas such as Wales and Scotland." She advised that there are very good Farmer's Markets in Devon and that more should be done to share best practice, improve standards further and promote to the people of Devon. She also warned that the development and recovery of many local businesses is being held up by the stalling of the DEFRA clean-up process.

 

 

October 8th SUMMARY: FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS -- MONDAY PM

"MY children had never seen me cry before. They have now. " These were the words of father of three Mark Tomlinson as he told Monday's hearing of the Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry how the Government's decision to create a giant burial pit for slaughtered livestock near his home had affected his family.

The Inquiry, chaired by Prof Ian Mercer CBE at County Hall, Exeter, was told by Mark Tomlinson of Aish Lodge, Petrockstow, near Okehampton, that the decision by the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to excavate the pit at Ash Moor just 200 yards from his family home had left him "stunned".

He said the first he and his family knew of the controversial plan was when a Ministry of Defence representative arrived one morning having phoned the previous evening asking if Mr Tomlinson would be available for a discussion about "roadworks".

Mr Tomlinson, who at one point overcome with emotion had to break off from giving evidence, said: "In the space of 24 hours we were advised to move by the MoD, offered holiday accommodation by MAFF and that was when it all started."

The Inquiry heard that Mr Tomlinson was told work on the Ash Moor pit was to start in less than 24 hours to take up to 400,000 carcasses and up to 10,000 lorry-loads would pass close by his home. A surveyor warned him the house would not withstand the vibration created and would not be habitable again.

MAFF eventually bought alternative access to the Ash Moor pit from the French owned clay company Imerys, the Inquiry heard, but Mr Tomlinson said: "We're a couple with three children, compared with a clayworks company, it is clear we were seen at the start as by far an easier and cheaper target."

The Ash Moor burial pit although constructed was never used, but Mr Tomlinson said his children, aged 13, 10 and 6, had been traumatised by the episode and the uncertainty about their future continued.

He said: "It is like the sword of Damocles hanging over us." He added that there was a constant drone from the generators and the lights - "it's like living near a city."

Mrs Tomlinson, who accompanied her husband at the Inquiry, said: "Our children don't assume that the house is our home anymore. It is not a healthy attitude to have about the roof over our heads. They don't assume that they can live in their own home anymore, it is more a case of `if we can stay and if we can live here'."

Asked by Inquiry Chairman Prof Mercer what he and his family would want to happen, Mr Tomlinson said: "This is not about compensation, we don't want that. The first thing we want is an apology for what has happened to us and the second thing is that we just want it to go away and restored to how it was."

The Inquiry also heard evidence from a group of residents from Petrockstow, Meeth and Hatherleigh who have compiled a detailed report highly critical of the Ash Moor project. One of the co-authors Brian Aldridge described Ash Moor as "an experiment in the liquefaction of animal carcasses" and said they had brought their report to the Devon Inquiry because they felt they had more chance of receiving a fair hearing.

Another co-author Ron Dawson said there wasn't a report he'd read which wasn't "absolutely scathing" about Ash Moor and that because of the inherent flaws of the site were it ever to be used for waste disposal it would definitely lead to contamination of the local ground water.

Mr Dawson added: "We have a written admittance from MAFF that an Environmental Impact Assessment was not carried out prior to the commencement of work. DEFRA (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, MAFF's successor) is certainly carrying out such an assessment now, but in my view that is an admittance of a total disregard of the law."

Later in the hearing, farmer Colin Latham from Marwood told the Inquiry that the contiguous cull was not done quickly enough to prevent Foot and Mouth spreading. Mr Latham said he asked MAFF to cull 150 of his sheep which had had nose to nose contact with infected sheep on a neighbouring farm. But they did not carry out the cull for 12 days. When they found symptoms of Foot and Mouth in the dead sheep, they culled all his animals.

That was a lifetime's work and he lost 1,324 ewes, 900 lambs and 500 cattle.

Mr Latham said he believed if the cull had been carried out in the 48 hours promised by the Government then his other animals would not have had to be destroyed.

"We lost everything because of the time lapse," he said. "The contiguous cull did not limit the spread of the disease because it was not done quickly enough."

His close neighbour, David May, said he had been farming for 37 years. A neighbouring farm had been infected on March 20, he said. But his animals were not burned until April 17. He lost 150 cattle and 900 ewes and their lambs.

"Some mistakes were made," he said. "There were not rendering facilities available. They were too slow to build the pyre sites. It need never have got near Exmoor if it had been dealt within the 48 hours they were talking about."

Farmer Edward Martin, from Witheridge, said his animals had been infected 10 days after one of the pyres was lit in the area. "When they lit the fire there were pieces of animal drifting through the farm from two miles away," he said.

 

 

 

 

 

October 8th FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY NEWS SUMMARY -- MONDAY A.M.

THE first session of the Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry has heard criticism from the National Farmers' Union of how MAFF handled the outbreak of the disease and how in their opinion, it rapidly spread beyond the Government's control.

Following the opening address by inquiry chairman Prof Ian Mercer, who highlighted the importance of the Inquiry in looking towards the future of Devon's countryside and in providing a framework for the future of a well managed, thoroughly enjoyed countryside that produces quality food and fibre, the Inquiry heard evidence from David Hill, the National Farmers' Union County Chairman.

Mr Hill claimed that the biggest mistake by the Government following the discovery of foot and mouth was to announce a ban on animal movements four or fives days later, causing people to desperately move an extraordinary amount of animals before the ban became effective.

"If foot and mouth were to happen again, I would like to see an instant ban on animal movements in order to remove that window between the discovery of the disease and the ban," said Mr Hill.

Mr Hill saw the contiguous cull of animals during the outbreak as "the most extraordinary part of the exercise."

"Foot and Mouth is a disease of contact not boundary lines. The decision to contiguous culling led to the unnecessary killing of animals, caused great personal distress among farmers and led to MAFF rapidly losing control.

It was a disaster from start to finish.

"MAFF were playing catch up from day one as those tasked with coping with the outbreak were put under considerable pressure and became overworked and worn out.

It should have been apparent to MAFF in the first few days that we were heading for a major outbreak of foot and mouth and they should have considered where it was going to hit next.

"With hindsight the uncontrolled movement and 'mix and match' of animals was totally ill advised with unrestricted movements causing the rapid spread of the disease. The farming industry must now look to accommodate some standstill with animals coming onto farms or markets and then leaving."

Mr Hill also highlighted the major problem of a lack of communication between MAFF and the farming industry. "It was very difficult to obtain information from MAFF especially in the early days of the outbreak and this totally unsatisfactory situation only served to feed the rumour mill among farmers."

The command and control from Government was described by Mr Hill as 'abysmal'.

"Far more rapid, substantial help for the counties affected was desperately needed. One of the main recommendations following the outbreak of foot and mouth in the 1960s was for the Army to be called in on day one. This failed to happen and even when the Army did appear in Devon it was not clear who was in overall charge.

If foot and mouth were to happen again we must be crystal clear about getting help to farmers from the start of the discovery of the disease and about who is in charge."

On the subject of vaccination, Mr Hill said the NFU was happy to put the matter to the members' vote but only when the position is agreed.

"The problem is that it has yet to be made clear to us exactly what vaccination would involve and we desperately need an agreed position on which to base a decision."

Questioned on the subject of diversification as the saviour of farms Mr Hill asked the committee to consider the fact that a very large slice of the industry does not have diversification opportunities and that these ventures inevitably cost money upfront.

Diversification, therefore, is not seen by the NFU as a panacea for the ills of the industry. "The future for farming is to encourage members to go further down the food chain and take ownership for their products beyond the farm gate. The Government needs to help the industry to set up co-operatives and companies to aid with the recovery process,"explained Mr Hill.

Other considerations for the future were seen by the NFU as preaching quality wherever possible and looking at a regional marketing campaign. However Mr Hill warned that he was distressed over the lack of speed with which farmers are restocking and claimed many people would be leaving the industry as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak.

ends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Paula Miles, Exeter 383262, October 08,2001