DOZENS of Cumbrians poured out their pent-up anger and frustration last night to the man leading the inquiry into foot and mouth.

Kim Allan, Cumbria County Council: " Defra were lighting fires next to playgrounds and slaughtering animals where children were playing outside. There are children who are still getting counselling and are still traumatised. There was no communication by Defra at all and trying to deal with schools was absolutely desperate. Foot and mouth has left divided communities, split into the haves and the have-nots".
William Bell, farmer, Newton Arlosh: "My cows were left in a shed for 6 days with the disease. If Maff had responded more quickly, 85% of people in this area would not have had foot and mouth. If the people in charge had cattle lying dead 50 yards from their doorstep rotting and stinking and they couldn't eat for the smell, they would have darn well done something about it."

Nick Utting, NFU Group Sec, N Cumbria: " The anger and frustration I still feel inside needs some kind of action, needs someone to go, resignation or dismissal. But no-one has offered to go and if foot and mouth hits this country again in months or years to come, exactly the same thing will happen."

John Graham, farmer, Kirkbampton: "Ignorance and arrogance are the words that sum up what we had to contend with. My animals survived when the farm next door had it. I was in 19 3km protection zones and 16 surveillance zones. If my animals survived that I wonder how many were needlessly killed."

Dr Iain Anderson spent more than two hours at a public meeting in Carlisle hearing evidence from those whose lives were devastated by the disease. He admitted that in the early days the disease had "overwhelmed resources".

And afterwards, he spoke of the raw emotion he had heard during his day in the county. "As one who was distanced from Cumbria, watching it on TV and reading about it in the papers, your submissions today have closed the gap between us considerably," said Dr Anderson. Impact

"I at last feel I can get close to appreciating what it was like for you here.

"You have revealed your residual anger and frustration and that has had a great impact."

His comments came as the Government published an interim contingency plan, which says that pyres will not be used to dispose of animal carcasses in any future outbreaks. The report instead advocates incineration, rendering or burial in landfill sites.

The plan also says that in contrast to last year's blanket closure of the countryside, footpaths would be kept open, which would be crucial for tourism businesses.

Foot and mouth claimed another tourism casualty in Cumbria yesterday when the Youth Hostel Association announced that its 36-bed hostel at Dufton near Appleby would close at the end of the summer.

Last night's public meeting at the Shepherd's Inn, Carlisle, was one of a series of information-gathering meetings being held around Britain by Dr Anderson, who is chairing the inquiry.

Mitchells Auction Mart chairman Peter Greenhill was among more than 100 people who attended.

Up to 250 tickets were available but many who attended said the turnout was a reflection of a lack of confidence in the inquiry.

Mr Greenhill told Dr Anderson that trying to get information out of Defra had been like "trying to fight a forest fire by correspondence course."

He said: "The overriding feeling I have is of breathtaking incompetence by Maff and Defra," he added.

His feelings were echoed by many others, including farmer William Bell, of Marshside farm, Newton Arlosh.

"There was a sheer lack of urgency by Maff when foot and mouth came," he said. "The organisation was asleep on its feet."

The inquiry, which is due to report back to the Prime Minister and Defra secretary Margaret Beckett this summer, is focusing on the Government's response to the outbreak and the lessons to be learned.

It is one of three separate independent inquiries covering the epidemic itself, the prevention of future outbreaks and the future of farming. Many people got to their feet last night to express lack of confidence in an inquiry which does not have the legal status of a full public inquiry and does not seek to apportion blame.

Nick Green, from the lobby group Heart of Cumbria, said the inquiry was a "waste of public money".

"It has no credibility and will not allow us to get to the heart of the matter," he said. "Over 11 million animals were killed, businesses wrecked, people's lives destroyed and rural communities torn apart. Why don't you want to apportion blame?"

The issue of vaccination was raised by several people at the meeting. Dr Anderson did not reply specifically, but said everything he had heard would be addressed in his report.
March 13 02