warmwell.com agrees with every word of this editorial from the independent West Country newspaper about the Anderson (Lessons Learned) Report


EDITORIAL

 

Western Morning News


'sombre and thoughtful" (the words of Margaret Beckett) it may be. It is
certainly extremely detailed. But when all is said and done the Anderson
Report into the lessons learned from last year's foot and mouth disaster is
of an inquiry set up by the Government, on the Government's own terms and
with the Government's chosen chairman.

We do not doubt the sincerity of Dr Iain Anderson but the parameters within
which he worked and which were pre-established by the Government were not
sufficiently strong and open.

As a consequence, those of us who lived through the disaster find it
difficult to accept his findings as the definitive end to the matter.

Only a full and open public inquiry, with ministers and other key players
called to give evidence, would have satisfied us.

We did not get it. We were, therefore, deprived of the open justice which is
our human right.

I gave evidence, along with others, to Dr Anderson when his inquiry team
visited the Westcountry.

When he opened proceedings by saying his purpose was not to apportion blame,
another witness whispered in my ear: "So what the hell are we doing here?"

Simplistic, maybe. But Westcountry victims of the disaster will forever feel
cheated by the Government's cowardly refusal to be held to account in public.

If senior members of this evasive Government are prepared to get up in the
House of Commons and admit that mistakes were made you know that those
mistakes were desperately serious.

You know, too, that because of the Government's avoidance of proper
accountability the full responsibility for that conduct has been avoided.

Nowhere is this rather empty feeling of dissatisfaction more applicable than
to the big question: Did Tony Blair delay bringing in the Army because he did
not want to go into a General Election with a state of emergency existing in
the countryside?

And were the unseemly haste and barbaric proportions of the subsequent
contiguous cull similarly driven by a political desire to get the disease
under control and over with as quickly as possible so that delay to the
election was minimised?

Margaret Beckett told the Commons that Dr Anderson's report explicitly
rejected the "conspiracy theory" that the Government's handling of the crisis
was driven by concern over the timing of the General Election.

Ministers were interviewed by Dr Anderson, she asserted, on those points. But
we, the public, are not allowed to know what he asked them or what their
answers were.

We cannot judge for ourselves whether it is actually true to say that the
conspiracy theory has been banished forever. We simply have to take Margaret
Beckett's word for it.

And that's not democracy.

The reference in Dr Anderson's report to that theory says: "We have examined
Government papers and questioned ministers and officials but have found no
evidence to support such a suggestion."

That's hardly the massive rejection described by Mrs Beckett of the
suspicions, especially since we know of Dr Anderson's frustration that there
were moments of collective amnesia on crucial points when he spoke to
ministers. It might well be that the Prime Minister's conduct and policies
were never influenced by the General Election, but the point is that we will
never really know, and the fact that a neutered chairman of a toothless
inquiry could find no evidence of it means next to nothing.

In that regard, the impact of the Anderson inquiry on the victims of the
disaster was always going to be limited. You're left wondering: What else
have they not told us about?

None of that is the fault of Dr Anderson - a man of integrity who has done
the best job the restrictions placed on him would allow.

But it remains impossible to dismiss the suspicion that there is still a
great deal which has been hidden from us.

And if Tony Blair and his Government think that assessment is unfair they
only have themselves to blame for running away from the full public inquiry
which was the only transparent, just and democratic way to close the door on
this disaster.

That said, we welcome the clarity of thought behind Dr Anderson's
recommendations - in particular the need for a national strategy for animal
health and disease control.

His main broad areas to be addressed are sound:

Maintain vigilance against animal diseases through national and international
surveillance;

Be prepared with a comprehensive contingency plan for coping with an outbreak;

Speed and certainty were essential when tackling an outbreak and the
procedures used should be rehearsed;

Respect local knowledge and delegate decisions whenever possible;

Have a legislative framework that gives government the powers needed to
respond effectively to the emerging needs of a crisis;

Base policy decisions on the best available science.

Given the disastrous proportions of the 2001 epidemic it is extremely
unlikely that the mistakes - those we have been allowed to know about and
those kept from us by cover-up and evasion - will ever be repeated, but Dr
Anderson's total of 81 recommendations, if adopted and enshrined, should
doubly ensure that they are not.

In broader terms, this Government should have learned that this tragedy
reached such massive proportions because it was for too long regarded merely
as an animal health issue - with no understanding of the human and economic
factors and consequences.

At the root of the Government's scandalous mishandling of the epidemic was a
basic lack of understanding and knowledge of the countryside and country
people.

If Blair, Beckett, et al continue to deny that they will never regain the
trust and respect of those people who felt brutalised, betrayed and isolated
by their conduct throughout the disaster.

A few humble words of regret and apology would have moved mountains in terms
of rural public opinion.

What we got instead was arrogant, complacent, even sometimes hostile, evasion
of the accountability which is inherent in their public office.

We saw little, if any, evidence yesterday of that - arguably the most
important of all the lessons to be learned - having sunk in.