Report on the Cumbria FMD Inquiry Open Meeting at Appleby Town Hall last night commencing 7 pm.

 
Prof Thomas sat with panel members Nicholas Gent, Andrew Humphries, Jan Darrell, Canon Ravalde, David Etherden, Philip Hancock, Prof Ellwood who all introduced themselves briefly after the introduction. There were around 60 people present, the majority farmers.
 
Prof Thomas gave the usual introduction on terms of reference etc and explained to the press reporters that all evidence given by speakers was not attributable unless with the speaker's permission.
 
The meeting started fairly quietly but gradually brought forth several emotionally charged recounts of experiences during the FMD crisis.
 
A well known land agent from Penrith spoke about the number of complaints they had given to the Ombudsman about maladministration. He asked if the Inquiry could get a hold of the contingency plan as they couldn't. They had many specific and generalised complaints and remarked that the Government had ignored everything in the Northumberland Report. A specific complaint was made about the inequality in valuations as the later scale pushed values through the roof. The 1967 outbreak had a top up scheme for those disadvantaged by earlier valuations. He also questioned the 14 day appeal time frame. Most farmers were in shock and not in a fit state to appeal and he felt the Govt were too rigid about the 14 days. The cull policy was unfair and inconsistent - "it was moral blackmail to agree to slaughter". If you didn't agree to it, you were bullied. Other points made included:  the need to test before slaughter, interest on late payment of invoices (14 days turned into 14 weeks if you were lucky), no payment for professional advice. Ground roots Defra officials were OK but middle managers were hopeless. Claims were going back and forth between Page St and Carlisle for months. There was a need to cut bureaucracy and get somebody on the ground to make decisions.
 
A lady who was happy to be identified as she was angry at what had happened to her was Elizabeth Skelton of Highgate Farm Animal Trail. On 22 March she came under a 3km zone. It wasn't until 1 April that she was officially informed of that fact by MAFF. On the 3 April, a MAFF vet drove his vehicle down her bridle path and arrived at her farm in unprotected civilian clothes to give her a D notice. He did not know what animals she had despite her completing all previous documentation. She was told that if she got FMD, he would be in Leeds culling all the animals in that area ! She was on her own with her young daughter at the time and the vet was there for two and a half hours. He did not have enough humane killer with him. He then told her she had six hours to get hold of a valuer, that being the length of time it would take to get a cull team in from Carlisle. 17 days later they killed her Gloucester Old Spot pigs, her famous "racing sheep" and her pigmy goats. She said it was "moral blackmail" as she had signed a document to say she had "voluntarily given up" her animals. She was still struggling to get her C & D costs as DEFRA had only paid half as she had been told that she was not a Dangerous contact. She had been threatened with prison if she did not clean and open up her premises. She has had nothing but aggravation from Carlisle DVM who will not pay her invoice. This lady was, quite understandably, very upset about her treatment and gave a very emotional recount of her story.
 
A local landowner remarked on the illegality of the contiguous cull, costs being borne by landlords without compensation when buildings had to be removed. He also commented on vaccination. Prof Thomas said he was steering off vaccination as it "was a complicated issue".
 
A Morland farmer, who got a D notice the same time as Ms Skelton, commented that he had received no thank you or money from the Govt for saving them money. He remarked that Haywood (Carlisle DVM) was a "complete idiot". Page Street had no idea where FMD was in the local area. "We are peasants" so could not make any suggestions and were certainly not "stakeholders". He got biosecurity advice from an epidemiologist at Carlisle.
 
A local resident, who had returned to the area in November last year after working down south, remarked how they had pulled the plug on the media since the election. People down south, and even those in Lancashire, thought it was all over. They blamed farmers when they visited and found footpaths closed. Cumbrian farmers now had a damaged reputation.
 
Prof Thomas asked about the state of communications during FMD. Another local farmer said that the Govt was like a multi-national company. It assumed that everyone had a computer. Most people used Radio Cumbria to get information. His small farm was made a DC on 18 Aug and he held out for a day and a half. He based his decision on what the epidemiologist said and had to cope with giving his animals up. He subsequently found out a month later that the results were negative. His next door neighbour had a lot of infection - 800 out of 1,000 sheep - but not his dairy cows. Other points included: reduction of SVS and the fact that contractors went home every night when farmers were tied to their farms.
 
Prof Thomas recalled that the optimum method of communication, from what was said the night before at the Ulverston meeting, was the internet but the preferred route was Radio Cumbria. It was agreed that local media should have been better utilised.
 
A local lady vet covered many points including surveillance visits, saying that surveillance of cattle was a pointless exercise as most cases were usually picked up by the farmer himself. It was a waste of time and resources as it took four and a half hours every day.
Lack of use of local vets was another point and they would have been more useful in advising on biosecurity as they knew the weak spots. There was a lack of consultation and the problems with Page Street questioning diagnosis was also raised.
 
There were general common points raised about disinfection, vermin control, deer spreading disease, and communication problems. Biosecurity was not practiced by Maff themselves, 1967 Inquiry recommendations not acted upon, health issues,
 
Prof Thomas remarked that FMD stopped very abruptly which he found "very surprising".
A remark from the audience was that the "EU stopped the payments in September".
 
Nick Green made several comments throughout the evening, when allowed, including EU directives, Prof Brown, the NFU, rural nurses, the Anderson modelling team and how animal slaughter numbers would have been reduced by a third to a half of the total amount if movement restrictions had been stopped straight away instead of waiting 4 days. He also talked more personally for the first time about how FMD had affected his own livelihood as regards to his work as an outdoor pursuits instructor. He recounted how both his own children and the school children in his village witnessed animals being culled in front of them. He emphasised the need to be vigilant for the effects of PTSD, comparing it with his knowledge of Falklands veterans.
 
Liz Lowther also commented on the effects of the outbreak on children and produced the "Life Extinguished" poetry book which has been given to the panel as evidence.
 
Nicholas Gent of the Panel remarked that the model used during the epidemic was not a good model. There had been no separation of differential controls in the various regions.
 
An Eden farmer wondered why the Snowie contract had ended at the end of 2001 and the disinfectant teams contracts finished in November. Prof Thomas was not convinced of any ulterior reason suspecting that this was just the Govt short contract way of working. He preferred the notion of  "cock up rather than conspiracy".
 
Another farmer recalled the visit of the three leading FMD scientists to the meeting in Penrith last year and the passage of the AHB, now the SI, through Parliament. "If they try it again, they'll be insurrection in the camp. We'll never trust Defra again". They should channel everything through our local vets. Communication needs to be set up now.
 
A vote was asked to be taken about confidence in MAFF - a "pretty high proportion" voted they has no confidence in them.
 
A local farm supply business who lost 80% of his turnover last year and is still trying to recover, remarked on the lack of support for such businesses. He felt he had no voice. He had made a written submission but got the impression that he was too small and insignificant to give oral evidence. Pro Thomas said anyone was welcome to give oral evidence in the half hour after submissions at Carlisle. The response was that it was difficult to find time off during the day when struggling to keep a business together. He also remarked that with only a few people killed at the Potters Bar rail crash, people were already demanding a public inquiry. Thousands of people were affected by the FMD outbreak but no public Inquiry!
 
Another farmer commented on the "diabolical cockups" that occurred in the Penrith Spur and the huge pressure on farmers in the area. They were devastated when they went down with the disease but it was a huge release afterwards. He asked the Inquiry to seek help for those standing farmers who did not get FMD. He also asked "What influence the damn election had on this farce?"
 
A lady farmer who lost her pedigree herd at the end of June said she had suffered lasting emotional damage and felt she would not recover. Every little setback which normally she would have taken in her stride, was now blown out of all proportion. It was an ongoing problem for her.
 
A farmer's wife and nurse also commented that it was a "traumatised community". They had grieved over lost stock and were still grieving. FMD had alienated people from others. She said that it had "altered how I feel about things and the powers that govern me".She compared the situation to how elderly people felt about the effects of WW2. They didn't think about it at the time, they pushed it away and tried to carry on but the memories affected them still today. There was a breakdown in relationships in society; each group was left to fight for themselves. There was an urgent need for repair work. "Responsible dialogue and to be honest about it, is the only way forward." She referred to Nick's mention of PTSD and flashbacks and remarked it was not just that but the whole thing.
 
A local councillor asked the Inquiry panel if they knew that the local mental health unit was under threat of closure at a time when it would be most needed. Prof Thomas remarked that there is a danger of thinking that things have come to a close when some of the long-term problems should be looked at.
 
I have tried to cover most points raised and apologise for any missed. he meeting was starting to overrun and Prof Thomas brought the meeting to a close just after 10.05 pm.