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Western Morning News


09:00 - 18 March 2004

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been urged to "come clean" about an 11,700-word document which it has attempted to pass off as an "aide memoire".

Government vet Jim Dring wrote the detailed report about a series of inspections carried out on the Northumberland farm at the centre of the foot and mouth outbreak in the immediate run-up to the emergence of the disease.

In it, he admits that the epidemic could have been averted had his inspections, which were hampered by staff shortages, been more rigorous.

The bulk of the document has now been published on Defra's website, but does not include the top cover, seen by the WMN, which clearly shows that Mr Dring believed his statement was for the Anderson Inquiry. Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett has admitted Mr Dring's report was "withheld" from this inquiry.

Yesterday, Defra said that following the publication of Mr Dring's document, it had consulted with Dr Anderson on the matter. A Defra spokesman said: "Both he and Defra believe that it would have been preferable if Mr Dring's memo had been passed to the inquiry, but lawyers' advice at the time was that to do so might prejudice the Waugh court case. Dr Anderson has told Defra that had he seen Mr Dring's memo it would not have changed any of the conclusions or recommendations of his inquiry and Defra welcomes this."

Andrew George, Lib-Dem MP for St Ives, said it was obvious the document was more than an aide memoire. "I think the cover sheet is quite critical. The cover sheet changes the whole nature of the document. I have seen the document on the Defra website which is what they wanted us to see and they did not want us to see the cover. The document is not something that was dashed off in five minutes. We can't simply allow this matter to be shoved under the carpet."

Mr George is seeking an independent inquiry into why Mr Dring's report was not submitted to the Anderson inquiry. "We need a small, but narrow investigation into the handling of this material and to ask Dr Anderson if he had received it would it have made any significant difference," he said.

Shadow Environment Secretary Theresa May said the document was a lengthy and detailed document that was "certainly more" than an aide memoire. "The Government must come clean on this," she said.

A spokesman for Defra said: "It is still an aide memoire, but it is also a personal statement. Prof Anderson was aware of it and the issues were discussed."

Prof Sheila Crispin, of Bristol University, who worked as a temporary veterinary inspector in the north-east of England during the foot and mouth crisis when she met Jim Dring, said: "In fairness to Jim I think he realised the implications very early on. Inevitably, therefore at some stage he would have sat down to produce a very considered report. Apart from anything else the potential for litigation against him would be huge, which would be one reason for writing it down, and also I think he would have wanted to write it down because he would have felt in such a state about it."

Former Devon National Farmers' Union chairman David Hill said: "At the very least this is an extensive aide memoire. This is an honest man recording things exactly as he saw them."