Friday, July 22, 2005


Burying something nasty in the woodshed

" extraordinary propensity to give his own version of events inconsistent with that of his own advisers and officials when it suited his case".

Summing up in the Railtrack liability trial at the High Court, Keith Rowley QC also told Mr Justice Lindsay that Mr Byers "was not a witness of truth..."

Mr Byers is just one of the latest so-called public servant to be exposed as a liar - or rather not exposed since the media become very shy at such times.
However, Simon Jenkins is not "the media". He fearlessly wrote last week:

Mr Byers can now relax for a bit, if he feels like it. The Railtrack liability trial is over and the judge, Mr Justice Lindsay, has reserved judgement. It is expected that the Court will reconvene in October for judgement to be delivered.

The Downing Street memos show the way that Governments will "fix things around the policy". The list of those in public life from whom one wouldn't buy a postcard let alone a second-hand car grows ever longer. The time we can expect to live in peace without harassment or worse grows ever shorter.

In the 2001 FMD crisis, the "best scientific advice" was also being fixed around the policy.

At first, I simply couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing from the real people involved. Misinformation in 2001 about the nature of the disease, about compensation, about vaccination and about rapid, effective hi-tech diagnosis led to horror. While I was in a state of constant grief and anger, the media, our only hope of redress, kept its mouth shut. Phoenix the calf, about which the media did gush forth, did much to quieten anxiety among the credulous public, for wasn't one little calf safe and well?

Government arrogance, its inability to empathise, Downing Street's wish for a quick fix, its insistence that its policies had scientific justification - all this was creating daily scenes from hell. Literally millions of healthy animals and their young were being stressed and terrified before being slaughtered. Anyone who thinks this doesn't matter had better never come near me. People were made prisoners in their own farms, anyone who stood up for sanity was ridiculed or - far nastier - was curtly told they were jeopardising their neighbours' safety. As Abigail Woods said from the very beginning, it was a "Manufactured Plague". The experts who understood that this was madness were sidelined and the decent vets despaired.

Except for splendid Devon who carried out the first Inquiry, (and who waited in vain for input from DEFRA and whose conclusions were unequivocal), other so-called official FMD inquiries had their teeth quietly extracted; the public slumbered on. They believed that farmers had been greedy or worse.

Those in positions of power who had contributed to the nightmare were promoted, honoured or else gently moved on.

The EU team who came to investigate the UK outbreak would similarly have uncovered nothing of note had it not been for a few "ordinary" individuals. Luckily, there were those who were past caring what officialdom could do further to blight their lives and their careers. They simply spoke from the heart. Even the redoubtable Signora Redondo and many other hard bitten career MEPs were reduced to tears by what they heard at Knowstone, in Wales and in the Forest of Dean. The EU committee left under no illusions about the effect of the UK policies. Several "on-message" New Labour MEPs, trying to undo the damage, found that spluttering self-righteousness had no effect.

There is, four years later, cause for the deepest concern. UK disease Contingency plans still fail to acknowledge the lessons that should have been learned and have not been. Warmwell's comments about the latest Contingency Plan can be read half way down on this page of the website of the FMD & CSF Coordination Action (EU funded project).

There is still no acknowledgement of rapid on-site PCR diagnosis nor, apparently, much understanding of the derogations to help farmers in the EU Directive. There is no independent expert group in the UK. Of what use is an "Expert Group" largely answerable to DEFRA?

Farmers are deeply suspicious of DEFRA and government. They have lost faith in a Ministry that has made their lives drearily complicated and their livelihoods precarious. Like the rest of us, they are tired of the spin, the arrogance and the truly appalling level of ignorance.

But in the matter of zoonoses, farmers are our first line of defence. There really is a risk of serious animal disease going unreported. Farmers have their backs to the wall. No successful efforts are being made to regain their trust and their willing cooperation. Neither draconian penalties nor unreadable Contingency Plans are going to solve this dangerous problem.

Like the Ministers themselves, few farmers would admit to something nasty in the woodshed if there were a chance of quietly burying it.

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