MP LAYS BLAME FIRMLY AT MINISTRY`S DOOR

Cumberland & Westmorland Herald Saturday, 1st June 2002 A CATALOGUE of disaster, delay and distressing dealings with Ministry of Agriculture officials in Carlisle which allowed foot and mouth disease to rip through large parts of Cumbria were highlighted yesterday by Penrith and the Border MP David Maclean.

He said a number of sensible measures to curb the disease's spread were obvious to even the layman, but MAFF failed to take action and allowed the crisis to spiral.

Mr. Maclean was giving evidence on the fourth and final day of Cumbria's inde-pendent foot and mouth inquiry at Carlisle Civic Centre. It followed the same format as last month's inquiry hearings in Kendal. The 10-strong panel, headed by Professor Phil Thomas, is due to report in July. The MP was one of the last speakers to address the hearing following submissions by representatives of councils, the farming and tourism industries, voluntary sector, Environment Agency and others involved in coping with the outbreak's effects in Cumbria.

Mr. Maclean spoke out about the lack of any appar-ent contingency plan in Cumbria and the failure of MAFF officials in Carlisle to grasp the seriousness of the situation or take action to get on top of the disease.

Infected animals were not slaughtered for days, dead stock was left lying in the open for 11 or 12 days, there was stalemate between the Ministry and Environment Agency over disposal of carcases, and bureaucracy and red tape prevented action to stop the disease's spread.

The MP told the inquiry how sensible measures he called for - such as appealing for more vets, need for the Army and importance of speedy slaughter and burial - were not put into effect for days or weeks, allowing the disease to spread out of control. He told the panel he was not saying all this to prove he was anything special but to show how the failings of MAFF allowed the outbreak to get out of control in the first critical weeks.

'Three weeks into it and the thing was lost. There was a lack of contingency planning, there was no sense of urgency and they were unable to gear up from peacetime to emergency.

'MAFF at Carlisle had not told London they had a problem and then London told Carlisle to keep it under the carpet. That was in the first three weeks when it was all lost - and Cumbria has suffered as a result," said Mr. Maclean.

Among the MP's mass of written submissions to the panel were some of the many hundreds of forms completed by farmers whose animals were slaughtered.

They detailed the horrors of waiting days between calling in ministry officials and having infected animals slaughtered, dead stock left lying for days, slaughter teams sacked by vets for failing to do the job properly, infected animals allowed to escape, no compensation for building replacement, delays over stock payments and - a theme repeated over and over - lack of information, action or help from officials at the then MAFF, now DEFRA '

Mr. Maclean also submit-ted copies of his letters to Prime Minister Tony Blair and agriculture minister Nick Brown, calling for help for Cumbria.