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1:00 - 04 November 2004
Tory leader Michael Howard has pledged to review the case for a full public inquiry into the foot and mouth disaster in the light of new evidence of a Government cover-up.

In an interview with the WMN Mr Howard said he was "very interested" in the emergence of a video showing appalling conditions on the farm where the 2001 outbreak is thought to have started.

The video was shot the day after foot and mouth was found on Bobby Waugh's Northumberland pig farm - and just one month after it had been issued a new licence by Government vet Jim Dring.

Earlier this year, the WMN revealed that Mr Dring himself felt the foot and mouth crisis "would never have come about" if his inspection of Waugh's farm in the weeks leading up to the outbreak had been "more rigorous".

But neither Mr Dring's report, nor the video, were submitted to the official "lessons learned" inquiry chaired by Dr Iain Anderson - a fact which Mr Howard said "does not inspire public confidence in what happened".

The Tory leader said that a future Conservative government would consider holding a fresh inquiry into the disaster if serious questions remained unanswered - although he stressed that he would prefer to see those responsible held to account while they were still in office.

"We will see how many questions remain unanswered when we come into government and make a judgement then," he said. "I would want to look at it again in the light of the latest up-to-date information."

Shadow Agriculture Minister Owen Paterson, who has tabled a series of Parliamentary questions about information withheld from the Anderson Inquiry, said there was clear evidence of a "cover-up".

Mr Paterson, who has called on Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett to reopen the inquiry in the light of the new evidence, said: "I have absolutely no doubt that there was a cover-up. Many people in the countryside are still absolutely boiling about this - it will not go away."

Mr Paterson has also tabled questions about the fate of scientific test results taken on livestock at Waugh's farm at the time of the outbreak.

Some observers believe the tests could show that the disease was present at the time of Mr Dring's inspection of the farm on 24 January 2001.

But the test results do not appear to have been sent to the Anderson Inquiry.

A senior agricultural lawyer has suggested that the emergence of new evidence about the origins of the outbreak could bolster claims for compensation against the Government from businesses affected by the disaster. Chris Price, solicitor for the Country Land and Business Association, said the new video suggested that Waugh's farm should have been closed down by inspectors before the outbreak began.

Mr Paterson said Government attempts to cover-up the origins of the outbreak had left the UK "wide open" to a similar event happening again.

But the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insists that the video contains "nothing new". A spokesman said the video had been shown at Waugh's trial.

The Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw has told that WMN that the Government will not reopen the inquiry. He said that those pressing for a new inquiry were determined to pin the blame for the disaster on the Government.

Mr Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, said: "This is just a politically orchestrated campaign to try and put the blame for foot and mouth on the Government rather than on the farmer who was responsible through his criminal activity," he said.

However Mr Paterson said that even the dreadful conditions on Waugh's farm did not explain by themselves how foot and mouth had started.

He added: "The crying indictment of the three inquiries we have had is that they never established where the disease came from. It had to get to Bobby Waugh's farm somehow.

"The Government does not seem to be remotely interested in identifying the real source of the disease.

"But until we know where it came from we are wide open to it happening again."