Leak into FMD payouts probed

Mar 13 2002
By The Journal

An investigation has been launched after confidential documents detailing how much North-East farmers received in foot-and-mouth compensation payments leaked from a Government department.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has launched the inquiry after valuation forms were made public. It is understood the documents have been circulated in the Tyne Valley - the area in which the last 30 cases of the disease took place. A spokesman for Defra confirmed that there had been a leak of confidential information and the incident has been brought to the attention of Defra Minister for Food and Farming Lord Whitty.

He said: "Defra takes any breach of confidentiality extremely seriously and is fully investigating."

The spokesman said he could not say anything more on the matter. He also would make no comment on the possibility of legal action.

The leak was last night condemned by farming leaders and the region's MPs, who say that following the trauma of the foot-and-mouth crisis, the last thing the industry needed was further bitterness.

Hexham MP Peter Atkinson said: "This is a very serious matter.
"The information that has been leaked is confidential. "The overall amount of compensation that has been paid out is a public matter and will be examined by the National Audit Office but this leak is revealing the private financial matter of individuals, which should not happen."

He said: "I raised the matter with Defra as soon as I heard about this leak. "They confirmed it and said they were investigating it. "I have also written a letter to Lord Whitty, pointing out to him what has happened and reinforcing the need for a full inquiry into the matter.

Berwick MP Alan Beith said: "Clearly there has been an unacceptable breach of confidence and discipline within Defra which is a notoriously badly organised department."

Haydon Bridge farmer David Smith, who is chairman of the National Sheep Association, said: "I can only hope that Defra's investigation is quick and they find out who has leaked this confidential information so that they can be brought to justice. "Farming has gone through enough problems last year without this happening."

Hill farmer Malcolm Corbett, from Otterburn, was chairman of Northumberland NFU during the foot-and-mouth crisis. He said: "It is disgraceful that this confidential information has been leaked.

"It is comparable to people's bank statements being leaked into the public domain.

"It is a very serious matter and will cause even more anguish and pressure on farmers who are still suffering the after effects of foot-and-mouth."