5th May 2002

 Dear Sir,

 

               FOOT AND MOUTH EPIDEMIC 2001

 

refer to my telephone call of last week, when you suggested that I write to you to set out the information which I wish to present to your Inquiry. I understand that the closing date for submissions is past, but that you would still be interested to hear from me. I appreciate that the list of contributors for the hearings at Kendal has already been finalised, but that for the Carlisle hearings it has not. I would be quite willing to come to Carlisle, if it were possible for my contribution to be heard there.  Currently I am working in Lancashire, so it would be relatively easy to come up to your hearing.  My address for the time being is 12 Maytree Walk, Woodley Park, Skelmersdale, Lancs MN8 6UP, and my telephone number is 0 1 695 5 5 995  

I became personally involved in the handling of the epidemic in June last year, having become very disturbed about the Ministry's abusive and incompetent behaviour during the culling around Knowstone, in Devon, the previous month.  For reasons which the Ministry has still not explained, the disease broke out in Clayhanger, Devon, on the 1 1'1' June.  This outbreak was unexpected, being some twenty miles from the nearest disease.  Our youngstock were in the adjoining field to the farm identified as infected, and were also identified as being diseased the following day.  Although samples were taken, I have still received no written confirmation that they were infected.  The farm is owned by an elderly couple, the Bensons, the wife dying of cancer at the time.  She is now dead.  Their stock included 6 alpacas, a species theoretically susceptible to the disease, but in practice resistant, and not a transmitter.  There has been no case of FMD in alpacas, even where they shared a building with sheep which were infected. 

There was no reason for the alpacas to be killed, even if the other animals had been infected, and the Bensons decided that they did not want theirs slaughtered.  Acting as their land agent, I informed the Ministry of their decision.  Our lawyers became involved, and the legal process was started.  Nevertheless, the Ministry decided to evade the proper process of law, and to usurp the Court's duty to decide such cases.  After much discussion with me at the farm, they sent in an inexperienced and incompetent policeman, who unlawfully arrested me.  Once I had been removed, they bullied and intimidated my Clients until they reluctantly agreed to the unnecessary slaughter of the alpacas.

Three days later they came to the gate at our home farm, on a Saturday afternoon, and tried to kill the stock which we had there.  We resisted four and a half hours of bullying and intimidation by Ministry officials, and at one stage I was on the mobile phone to our QC, telling him to get an injunction immediately against the Ministry.  Eventually they backed off, and were forced to attempt to obtain an injunction against us in the High Court.  They failed to convince the judge, who found in our favour and awarded us costs.  That case was MAFF v Upton, otherwise known as the case of Grunty the pig.  Grunty is still fit and well, and none of those animals ever contracted the disease.

 As a result of this abuse, I have had to become actively involved in the campaign to bring into the open all the issues surrounding this epidemic. I am a founder member, and South West Regional Representative, of the UK Rural Business Campaign, set up to obtain proper compensation from the Government for all those businesses which have lost money as a result of the Government's mishandling of the epidemic.  That campaign is reaching a critical point, at which we may have to start the legal process, to obtain disclosure of critical documents.  The Government has asked for all extension of time to produce them, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will then comply with our requests.

 The key issues which need to be addressed by any inquiry are listed below. I have evidence on each of these which I will put to the full public inquiry when it is held.  But I will not burden you with all this evidence, as you have allocated only a couple of weeks for your hearings.  A comprehensive inquiry will need to spend well over a year taking evidence and analysing, and it is unfair to expect you to be able to do that.

 The key issues are:

 1. Should foot and mouth even be a notifiable disease?

2.    If it does need to be a notifiable disease, then mass slaughter is not an acceptable way to address it. 

 3.       If it does need to be a notifiable disease, then the rapid diagnosis systems which exist for this disease, in particular the farm gate analysis developed in the USA in conjunction with the FMD Research Centre at Plum Island, must be used so that diagnosis of the disease does not have to rely on the inexperience of vets who, at best, have not seen the disease since 1967, and at worst have never seen it before.

 
 4. In all circumstances of infectious diseases arriving from abroad, we should call upon the best scientific knowledge and experience, not muddle through by trying to rely on the limited range of in-house knowledge within the Ministry.
 5.   Whenever Ministry officials, or their agents, consider that they need to visit private farms, they must always abide by the laws of this country.

6. Actions taken in the field must be guided by local circumstances, NOT directed by mindless bureaucrats from London

 

7.  All specialist professionals must be used only within the limits of their professional training and experience. Vets trained in animal disease should not be trying to deal with negotiations over access to land, interpretation of statutes and compensation issues.

 

 

8.                It is essential that there is a proper, frequently-updated contingency plan for dealing with any sudden outbreak of a notifiable disease.

9.     Whatever plan is to be implemented, it must have full cognisance of all its ramifications on other businesses which could be affected.

 

10.   The regulations introduced during such an epidemic should be reasonable, realistic and demonstrably necessary.

 11.         All Government officials and agents have a duty of care to the rural community withinWhich they were operating.  They failed to discharge this duty, and in many instances imparted misinformation and thereby fomented dissent.  They had no business to behave in this way, and must be held accountable.

 

These are the main points which I would like to put to your Inquiry, and I have evidence to back them up. You will see that of necessity I have ranged over the whole spectrum of the subjects which you have set yourself to consider.  Having had the direct experience thrust upon me by the incompetent behaviour of the Ministry, I make no apology for having made a comprehensive analysis of the problems.

I hope that you will be able to include my contribution in your hearing at Carlisle, and I look forward to hearing further from you.

Yours faithfully

 

 Tom Griffith-Jones