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GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO WESTERN MORNING NEWS

09:00 - 24 March 2004

Controversy has raged since the WMN revealed that an admission by government vet Jim Dring - that the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic could have been prevented if his inspection of the farm where it began had been more rigorous - had been withheld from the so-called Lessons To Be Learned inquiry. In the latest exchange, we publish correspondence between the government's Chief Vet Jim Scudamore and WMN Editor Barrie Williams

Turning Natural Justice On Its Head

Dear Mr Williams

I would like to respond to the WMN's recent coverage of the role of the State Veterinary Service vet, Jim Dring, who inspected Burnside Farm in Northumbria before the foot and mouth outbreak.

Your leader column stated: "We have never suggested that Mr Dring was responsible for the foot and mouth outbreak???our comments on the issue have not been directed at Jim Dring at all."

But in your signed editorial of March 13 you said that the foot and mouth epidemic could have been prevented if Mr Dring's inspection of the Waughs farm had been more rigorous. Your editorial went on: "???if it were not for his (Mr Dring's) blunders this disaster may never have happened."

Your readers will make their own judgement about the consistency of your two statements.

Because of your selective and tendentious reporting of the personal statement Jim Dring wrote after the foot and mouth outbreak, Mr Dring has agreed for the full document to be put in the public domain. It can be found on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk/footandmouth/

Far from showing any incompetence or "blunders" on Mr Dring's or the then Maff's part, it shows a conscientious vet dealing with a difficult farmer who was intent on concealing dangerous and illegal practices on his farm.

To suggest that Mr Dring may have been responsible for the foot and mouth disease outbreak, instead of the illegal pig swill feeding that was taking place at Burnside Farm, is to turn logic and natural justice on its head. It has also caused great distress to a dedicated public servant.

Jim Scudamore

Chief Veterinary Officer Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Accusation Of Selective Reporting Is Nonsense

Dear Mr Scudamore

I have to resist Defra's cynical attempts to shift the focus of this story by turning the WMN into the villain of the piece.

It is Defra, not the WMN, which persists in personalising the issue by focusing on Jim Dring. This will not succeed in diverting attention from the real point which is that Mr Dring's document, clearly addressed to the Anderson inquiry, never got there - a situation which the chairman, Iain Anderson, himself described as "regrettable" in an interview with Farmers' Weekly at the weekend.

It was not the WMN which said that the foot and mouth disaster could have been prevented if Mr Dring's inspection of the Waugh's premises had been more rigorous but Mr Dring himself in the document which was withheld from the inquiry. He also wrote that staff shortages caused him to cut corners.

The WMN has paid tribute to Mr Dring's honesty and courage and stressed several times that it would be wholly wrong to make him a scapegoat - as have MPs who have raised the issue in the House of Commons.

To argue at the same time that his document should have been made public through the Anderson inquiry is not inconsistent.

It is demonstrable nonsense to accuse the WMN of "selective and tendentious" reporting of Mr Dring's document. We published it in its entirety and were doing so well before DEFRA put it on its website.

There's a lot of selective and tendentious stuff going on, Mr Scudamore, but it is not coming from the Western Morning News.

Barrie Williams

Editor, Western Morning News