Farming Today Radio 4

Date & time

Wednesday, 17th April 2002 0545

Subject / interviewee

Demand for Compensation for Foot and Mouth  Stephen Alexander


Miriam OReilly: Lawyers are trying to prove Foot and Mouth Disease was present in the UK possibly as early as October 2000 and because of negligence it was allowed to spread out of control. London solicitors Class Law say they represent twenty five thousand rural people whose livelihoods were hit by Foot and Mouth and they want up to one and a half billion pounds in compensation. On Friday a letter of demand will be sent to the Government asking for documents relating to two crucial incidents. One involves a witness who says he saw a vet close an abattoir down a month before Foot and Mouth was officially announced on February the 20th 2001. Another, according to solicitor Stephen Alexander, relates to an incident which allegedly occurred on a farm in October 2000.

Stephen Alexander: Weve been given a signed statement from a farmer that two cows died suddenly and he called MAFF to visit, to inspect and he was told to bury them on his land without any further examination. Hes convinced they had Foot and Mouth. Hes asked for the exhumation last year, nothing happened. Weve been speaking to microbiologists whove confirmed that its possible using the latest scientific techniques to actually ascertain whether these animals had Foot and Mouth before they died.

MO: Are you saying that a Government department tried to cover up the fact that Foot and Mouth may have been around in October 2000 

SA: I think what were saying 

MO:  three and a half months before it was confirmed?

SA: Well I think what, what were saying is weve got a number of examples of incidents where it would appear that there was information before MAFF officials which would, should have led them to declare this emergency prior to when they did. Weve got cases of an independent witness who saw a vet order an abattoir to be closed and animals slaughtered because she suspected Foot and Mouth and that was in January. I think 

MO: How many weeks before February the 20th was that?

SA: Well at least four weeks before. Mr Scudamore has already accepted I believe that the disease was in the country prior to the date that they announced it was here, but merely stated that it was impossible to detect it prior to the date they did. What were trying to 

MO: I, I think Mr Scudamore has said that it, its likely it was around three weeks before it was detected, but thats a lot difference to, to three and a half months.

SA: Yes.

MO: I mean I think youll find it hard to persuade people that the Government would have let a disease like Foot and Mouth continue.

SA: I mean Im not suggesting that they deliberately went out of their way to cover it up. What Im actually saying is that there were some examples where officials should have done more than they actually did. Again we have scientific evidence, test results from the French authorities, that a large number of sheep which left the United Kingdom in January had the antibodies that are present when a sheep has come in to contact with the disease. (Indistinct) 

MO: I would just be interested though to try and understand why any vet, after the outbreak in 67 and knowing what Foot and Mouth could do wouldnt act if they were at all suspicious.

SA: I dont know whether these particular vets were aware of the disease. I dont know the reasons that matters werent taken further. I mean one of the actions were taking this week is to demand from DEFRA now documents relating the particular incidents weve been given information about because if these incidents occurred in the way that weve been told then documents will be in existence and were entitled to see copies of them.

MO: But could you explain to me how it could have happened, say if these two cows youre talking about who were buried on a farm in October 2000 had Foot and Mouth and the farmer suspected they had Foot and Mouth but was told by the vet to bury them and no tests were done?

SA: In this particular case the gentleman that was sent down by MAFF was from the Department of Environment, so Im not even certain whether they sent down a properly qualified vet. I mean so there could be a number of reasons why the situation occurred the way it did and I dont want to speculate until weve finished the inquiries, precisely why, what or how these events occurred.

MO: If there were mistakes made it could have been bungling officials and, and thats it.

SA: If there were bungling officials thats sufficient. And I think weve got plenty of evidence after the official date that there was continued bungling by officialdom. The failure to prevent animal movements for a period of three days, the spread of the disease by slaughtermen and for this critical period after the date that it was announced that it had arrived in the UK there was a failure to stop animal movements.

MO: Well DEFRA said they couldnt comment on the legal action until they had received official notification.