From Alan Beat at smallhoders.org .....our trip to Pirbright Laboratory. Bonnie and I reported to gate security at the appointed time and were led across to a modern office block. Through more security and up the stairs to an empty office, where we were soon joined by Andrew King, head of molecular biology and my long-term correspondent via e-mail, then soon afterwards by Alex Donaldson, head of Pirbright. Talking for a few minutes over tea, we gathered that their previous experience with film crews had not been good - lots of bodies, cables and equipment everywhere, offices turned upside down and much time wasted. Bonnie doesn't work that way and they soon relaxed at the sight of her minimal equipment, with no trailing leads in sight. The light in this office was drab so with a little persuasion, Alex Donaldson agreed to be interviewed in his own office.
This was more spacious with good natural light streaming in through the windows. His own desk was the ideal setting, so Bonnie set up the camera and we made a start. We ran through a long list of questions that we had both prepared and he answered them all. On some topics he was cautious and chose his words carefully; on others he was more expansive and relaxed. After a good hour of this, the camera was switched off and we talked for a while longer informally. During this unrecorded conversation, he spoke more frankly than he had on-camera. One thing we learned at this point was that he had felt misrepresented by the media, and was understandably wary as a result. It's for this reason that I'm not in a position to give details of the interview at this moment. He asked for a transcript and that will take a little time to prepare; it's important that he feels comfortable with that, otherwise the release of details in advance of the film would be a breach of trust. We'll keep you posted on this.
Afterwards, we moved across to Andrew King's office to interview him separately. He was also guarded at first, perhaps for the same reasons, but lit up once we started to ask about the virus itself. He gave us a fascinating mini-lecture on the molecular structure and properties of the virus capsid, how antibodies worked, vaccines, and possible development of drugs to protect against infection in the future. This was technical stuff and I am not going to attempt to convey this without a transcript! Both Andrew and Alex made us welcome and gave up part of their afternoon to us, for which we are grateful. It's worth repeating that Pirbright is the World Reference Laboratory for FMD, holds an international vaccine bank for FMD, and that there is no higher post in the world of FMD veterinary science than that which Alex Donaldson occupies.
So, did the government follow "the best scientific advice"? I hope to answer that question very soon. After Pirbright, Alicia and Bill Eykyn very kindly provided an evening meal (of delicious home-grown beef) and overnight accommodation. The following morning, Bonnie filmed an interview with Alicia about the FMD Forum.
I drove back to Devon reflecting on many aspects of FMD. There may never be a proper public inquiry, but the truth has a way of coming out, and Bonnie's film is an important part of that process.