Lessons Learned Inquiry Meeting, Shepherd's Inn, Carlisle - 12 March 2002

Report by Elaine Commander

Secretary to the Inquiry, Alun Evans, made the initial introduction similar to that at the previous regional meetings. Dr Iain Anderson then thanked everyone for attending - roughly 150 people present - and reported that the Inquiry "was well under way".

This was the 5th meeting in the series, tomorrow they would be talking to people in Lancashire; two weeks time the final meeting in Yorkshire. All followed the same format over 2 days of a public meeting and stakeholder meetings, the latter including farmers, small businesses and everyone involved in the rural economy.

They had already received more than 300 submissions and they were still coming in. After the series of meetings has finished, they will start their meetings with Ministers and senior officials.

Dr Anderson stated that he was "very conscious of the scale of the outbreak in Cumbria - very aware of that". He emphasised that "this is your meeting and we are here to listen". Their aim was to try to bring together the major lessons learned in order to formulate their recommendations for the way ahead. The deadline for submissions and the end of the consultation period was 15 March 2002.

The meeting then welcomed questions and comments from the floor:

Elizabeth Bowman of the Coast to Coast Packhorse Co. explained how her business, totally reliant on tourists, had been 100% wiped out by FMD. She queried whether tax could be written off on deferred payments and whether any more could be done for those struggling to continue in business. Dr Anderson replied that this issue had come up at other meetings and that it had been recognised and will be addressed.

An ex-councillor and coppicer explained his losses through FMD and how there was no compensation for rural businesses. Dr Anderson remarked that the coppicing industry had not been brought up before and he would look into that.

Mike Christian, a vet who worked as a TVI during FMD, said that an important question is "Why do we control disease?" He said that the civil servants should be controlling it FOR farmers.

A farmer from Newton Arlosh who lost his stock and waited 6 days for a cow to be tested, remarked on the lack of urgency in the early days of FMD in Cumbria. "They were asleep on their feet".

Another farmer remarked that there was not enough manpower in the early days.

Suzanne Greenhill then quoted the County Council's published figures on the losses to tourism and farming - 240 million lost to tourism (to 31/12/01). She asked why no cost benefit analysis for vaccination had been done.

A lady at the back of the room queried the amount of misleading information about diagnostic tests and spoke of Argentina's ELISA test which were said not to be recognised by the OIE. She also criticised the fact that Fred Brown's pen side test was not used, its (apparent) cost being one of the reasons.

Professor Ellwood of Keswick (ex-Porton Down) expressed concern that detection of any disease in animals is reliant on the funding of animal research. He remarked that technology already in existence for human disease had not been applied to this epidemic. We should look at what science is already doing. He also remarked that this area is not developed because it is semi-political.

A lady who stated that she was the biggest breeder of rare breeds in the area reported that she had received no legal advice from the Rare Breeds Society and no other form of help or protection of her animals.

Douglas Chalmers of the CLA asked about the contingency plan which was so obviously missing at the start of the outbreak. He said that it was a long time before any kind of plan was clear.

A Cumbria County Councillor remarked that this was the first public meeting he had attended where an invitation was needed.The council never saw a contingency plan and the Government response apparently was "we'll pass on that one". He said that vaccination was not stopped by the NFU (who were present in numbers in the front row) but by the food industry. He said that everyone had been lied to and that is why Cumbria County Council was holding its own Inquiry.

Then Nick Green spoke. He said that Dr Anderson had said that he did not want to apportion blame in this Inquiry; why not? He then said that it was reported that ministers' and civil servants' evidence would not be minuted and on that basis the Inquiry had no credibility. Dr Anderson replied that the inquiry was about lessons to be learned and was about getting to the heart of things and to use that as a foundation for recommendations for the future. He said that he would engage in discussions with Ministers and civil servants and that they may be criticised. However, the fundamental goal was not to apportion blame.

Nick went on to mention the evening's turnout and the arrogance of the members of the Royal Society meeting which was held in that same room. How would they know if ministers had lied? Dr Anderson replied that they would cross check everything and check anything that had been said. All evidence would be published. They wanted to get to the heart of the matter and make the proper recommendations.

A vet then spoke about local vet meetings that had taken place in the past, prior to FMD, where TB and FMD had been discussed. Paul Kitching had talked on the FMD side. He was concerned that LVIs (local veterinary inspectors) had not been more involved in decisions rather than Page Street being in control. This would have helped with the urgency of things. Sheep were poor vectors of disease. Jim Scudamore did not know what was happening in Cumbria on his visit nor did Nick Brown. There was a need for proper local clinical response.

Peter Greenhill, Chairman of Mitchells Auctioneers, Cockermouth remarked how MAFF did not listen to the advice of experts. There were scientists and other experts present in the room whose advice had been ignored. "We need a post-mortem. We need to know what the corpse died of. We know it was MAFF". Everything went through Page Street, local knowledge wasn't used. People are still frightened and still feel threatened. Children have been traumatised. He also remarked that nobody else "has brought a disease skidding to a halt on two separate occasions."

Nick Utting, Secretary Cumbria NFU said: "Nobody can know what it was like unless they were here." He then remarked that he had engaged in many arguments with Nick Green last year but could well understand Nick's point on the need for retribution. Nick Utting said that with everything that had happened, nobody had ever offered to go. The people he had spoken to and dealt with a year ago on FMD were still there. Why?

Elli Logan of S.A.D asked what was the source of the epidemic and pointed out that the role of globalisation and the EU should be investigated.

A farmer who managed to keep his stock spoke about Gt Orton. His farm was very close to it, he was within several 3km and 10 km surveillance zones but stayed FMD free. He remarked about vets seeing signs of FMD in pigs during the swine fever outbreak. He spoke a long while on how he felt Gt Orton should become a nature reserve and how feelings were stirred up when he discovered the burial chambers had been opened up again.

John Ashton, regional Director of Public Health said many of the difficulties encountered early on were a systems failure. Many times they were told certain problems were a farmers' issue and not a public health issue. There was a lack of joined up thinking and understanding. They had offered help by the use of their public health officers ( used to restaurant and shop closures etc) but this was turned down.

Geoff Lightburn, a part time farmer of Drybeck nr Appleby, told the story of his own farm which received a D notice on 9 May 2001. Their neighbour got FMD on 16 August and an Australian guy rang up to sat they were a contiguous farm "We're taking you out now". He resisted for a day as there was no other stock around them. The pressure on him was immense and they threatened him with the police. He was not allowed to keep his rare breeds. He commented about FMD to the Zimbabwean vet who attended his premises that he must deal with FMD all the time. The response from the vet was that "we don't deal with it in this manner". It was a long emotional speech about his negative tested animals.

Mike Bramley of Eden Farm Supplies, Shap expressed the total frustration and misinformation that was felt by everyone. He also remarked that official visitors to the county never spoke to the "average" person, only those of certain organisations "with a salary".

A West Cumbrian farmer, who had made a submission, asked who had authorised "the cleaning of farm buildings like an operating theatre? Who stupidly said that sheep were like walking time bombs? None of this being substantiated". He said that he wrote several times to the Agricultural Minister -the Dutch one - and he always replied. Ours doesn't bother. He then went on to make comments about the bloodtesting of sheep after September and Blair's supposed authorisation of vaccination being nobbled by Nestle. He said the Inquiry was a fudge and they would never face facts.

Veronica Waller, NFU Policy Advisor Cumbria, expressed concern that those farmers still with stock did not receive any help. There had been no flexibility for local conditions.

Will Cockbain, Chairman Cumbria NFU, stated that Scudamore had said that the sheep flock were infected when discussing the 3 km cull. He could not get test results and still wanted to know what percentage were actually infected.

A lady ex-farmer, now studying the effects of FMD on human health at university, reaffirmed that local knowledge was not used. The 1967 Inquiry report recommended the culling of infected animals within 24 hours and that didn't happen. She also remarked that communications from DEFRA were appalling.

An Appleby farmer said that we must stop the disease coming in again and remarked on the rundown state of the SVS.

A Grasmere hotelier mentioned how the Thirsk FMD scare had immediate effects on his business, people thinking there was a threat of footpath closures even though he was a long way from Yorkshire. He commented how last year the Austrian Government had told some of his customers to stay away.

A lady Health & Safety Officer in the Education Dept commented on the horrors that affected schoolchildren in Cumbria. They received no advice or communication from MAFF whatsoever when they were lighting fires next to school playgrounds, culling next to schools and so on. The school staff couldn't cope and they had no help from anywhere.

A disease expert from the University of Newcastle said that there were "very few lessons learned". Experts in Holland would not aerolize FMD by spraying vehicles so why did we?

Nick Coulthard (?), an epidemiologist currently working for DEFRA, was pointed out by a member of the audience and made to comment. He said that he could not talk that freely because of his employment with DEFRA (groans) but he could mention that they were studying NOW the epidemiology of the outbreak and analysing it. (Much side remark to this and laughter).

Nick Green then brought up the subject of the alleged "voluntary" aspect of the 3 km cull and Elliot Morley's apparent lies in its implementation. He mentioned the Voluntary Depopulation Scheme as it was termed (Heart of Cumbria has made a submission on this). There was much agreement to his comments from the room.

A farmer remarked on Scudamore's visit to Cumbria when he said that animals were being culled within 24 hours when local vets told him that they weren't and that Scudamore was shocked to find out the true situation. The CVO had no idea what was going on in Cumbria. This farmer got angry and emotional and asked why nobody could be blamed for what had happened. "Bad management has killed 11 million animals and you don't want to blame anyone".

Moira Linaker, keeper of rare breed sheep, had resisted the cull and told how she would not let vets on to her property incase they were subsequently found to be "dirty". She asked why she was still reliant on others for money and had received no compensation.

Another lady farmer remarked on the lack of compensation for lost crops.

The farmer from Newton Arlosh spoke again, this time reaffirming the bullying and intimidation. The first thing they should do is employ someone with some sense. They all think they are gods.

Christine Hall asked "Are we going to fight all diseases by slaughtering?" She queried the involvement of the EU as a cheque received by a farmer was titled EU Livestock Reduction Fund. Everything that had happened she felt was meant to happen. The Government did not care about the countryside or animal welfare.

Reg Almond, a farmer with an earthmoving business, recalled how he had written to the NFU, MAFF and the Environment Agency about disposal of beasts and had been ignored. He was expert on the construction of toxic landfill sites and was disgusted by how he was treated.

A DEFRA employee who had worked on surveillance said that there should be more help for those farmers not affected.

An Asian gentleman who I think was an epidemiologist in human diseases at a University I didn't catch, remarked in reference to an earlier speaker, that they should have been looking at the epidemiology of the outbreak then not analysing it now.

David Parker of Longtown brought up the subject of the draconian powers of the proposed Animal Health Act which would give "absolute power to DEFRA to slaughter with no right of appeal". Many previous culls had been illegal and the mass cull policy was the only policy they will apply in future.

Jill Gibson, a farmer's wife, commented on her farm's personal situation regarding a disputed valuation. How could she appeal properly within the 14 days when she was locked in for 17 days? She has not got enough compensation to buy any replacement animals.

Geoffrey Price, a mountain guide who keeps sheep, wondered why farmers in their area of NE Cumbria near Bewcastle managed to stay disease free and was this because they were surrounded by natural barriers.

A gentleman asked why if we were disease free now, do we still have so many restrictions?

At this point, the Inquiry Secretary brought the meeting to a close as time allotted had overrun. Dr Anderson thanked everyone for the way they had conducted the meeting and said that he had appreciated the transparency and honesty expressed that evening. He felt it had been somewhat different to others held. He said "Your accounts have closed the gap between us considerably" and that he could appreciate what had happened in Cumbria. The "residual anger and frustration has made an impact". He remarked that there had been some common points raised but several new ones. He looked visibly stirred by what he had heard and thanked everyone for coming along, wishing those who had come long distances a safe journey. .