The Northumberland Inquiry

Articles that appeared together on January 28th in the Northumberland Newspaper Morpeth Today, The Morpeth Herald

RED TAPE HINDERING FMD RECOVERY

COUNTY'S TOURISM HIT WORST OF ALL

THE FARMERS WHO 'DO NOT EXPECT' COMPENSATION

FOOTPATH CLOSURE 'WENT FURTHER THAN NECESSARY'

RAMBLERS BLAST PATHS CLOSURE POLICY

HOW CAN NORTHUMBERLAND PREVENT FMD'S RETURN?

PANEL STUNNED BY FMD REVELATIONS

WHY WIDDRINGTON WAS CHOSEN FOR FMD SITES

SUFFERING 'LARGELY IGNORED'

FARMERS TELL OF PAIN AND PRICE OF CRISIS

FMD 'ANOTHER TURN OF THE SCREW' FOR FARMERS

ONE-WOMAN PROTEST HOLDS UP FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY

MINISTRY'S ABSENCE 'WILL HAMPER HEARING'

COMMUNITY 'WAS PUT AT RISK'

COUNTY GETS ALL-CLEAR

GOVERNMENT FMD AID MAY SOON DRY UP

MAKING A SPECIAL CASE FOR WIDDRINGTON

Too much time spent battling beaurocracy - Beith

Widdrington deserves better - Beith

Bringing tourists back in wake of FMD

Would vaccination have been better option?

FMD inquiry part of the healing process


The FMD panel sitting at Morpeth - photo by the Morpeth Herald

The FMD panel sitting at Morpeth

RED TAPE HINDERING FMD RECOVERY

RED tape is preventing businesses affected by foot and mouth from getting vital cash support, the inquiry has heard.

The claims were made by farmers' leaders on day four of Northumberland's independent probe into a crisis which heaped misery on rural communities throughout the County.

The NFU's Regional Director for the North East, Mr Richard Ellison, said that farmers were finding the process of applying for hand-outs complicated and costly.

He told the inquiry: "The Rural Development Programme applications are complicated and you need a project officer and this costs money.

"And that is simply money that many farmers just don't have at the moment."

Mr Ellison added: "There is going to be a degree of scrambling for position and I think that DEFRA's role needs to be clarified quickly. Farms will need a clear and defined route to follow. "It seems there is a bewildering number of agencies involved in the fate of the rural areas of Northumberland and people are going to need to know which hoops to jump through for funding.

"OneNortheast have said there is a scope for juggling around with the English Rural Development Pool funding but farmers do need that and we are optimistic of working in that direction. We have a terrific number of short term businesses which I don't know how we are going to address, and there will be farms going out of business."

Director of the Country Land and Business Association, Mr Anthony Haslam, said: "There has been great trouble in making some of our members aware of what help is available to them, both from Government and European sources.

"There are a lot of obstacles for getting cash. Farms have complained that if you are applying for a loan below £50,000 it is hardly worth bothering.

"This is because in order to complete the forms you need the help of a professional land agent who charges to do that. This set up makes it virtually impossible for the smaller businesses to apply.

"The whole thing is really complicated and the average person needs professional help and guidance when seeking to get through this funding minefield. All we would ask for is this to be simplified, as people get the feeling obstacles are put in the way and it is difficult to access these funds."

Mr Haslam added: "If there is going to be a rural action scheme then it is up to us to make it work. The rural economy needs a business plan; the documents produced by the various Government agencies will not promote the rural economy. Our members are sceptical, having suffered greatly during the last year."


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COUNTY'S TOURISM HIT WORST OF ALL

TOURISM has suffered more in Northumberland than any other region in Britain, Northumberland's foot and mouth inquiry has been told.

Northumbria Tourist Board's Chief Executive, Peter Sloyan, claimed the situation was already looking grim when the outbreak hit last February.

He said: "It must be remembered that from the outset of the crisis tourism in this County had been beset by flood related disruptions, problems stemming from the rail crisis, the fuel blockades and the effects of the pound being so strong.

"The impact of the foot and mouth crisis had less of an impact in more urban areas but further inland it became a more severe problem.

"Unlike the rest of the UK, there was a second outbreak here in Northumberland. We were suffering while everyone else was just starting to really bounce back. "This really stopped tourist businesses from gaining ground and they really did miss out on advantages that the rest of the country had."

He added: "There is a case for the tourist industry getting discretionary support now because it didn't get cash flow like the rest of the country got."

Mr Sloyan went on to say what he felt would be the best means of pumping much-needed money back into Northumberland tourism.

"I'm not so sure that 'soft' loans would be the right step as businesses could well encounter problems in paying these back," he explained. "I think that the assistance has to be in the form of cash grants and should be specifically focused on improving the quality and bring the standards back up.

"I can understand some tourist-oriented businesses saying that overhead burdens are a difficulty, but for most businesses I would suggest that the need to invest in high quality is absolutely paramount."

Mr Sloyan warned: "We will continue to seek assistance but other regions who have also made representations, and Cumbria, have funding for three years while this County's ends in April of this year so there is already a differential."

Inquiry Chairman, Prof Michael Dower, said that businesses throughout the County had suffered and was in no doubt the tourist industry had taken a severe knock from foot and mouth.

He said: "As we enter this calendar year businesses are very much in a fragile state and the revival of tourism will not come soon; they face many severe problems."


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THE FARMERS WHO 'DO NOT EXPECT' COMPENSATION

FARMERS who suffered financial losses but were spared the fate of having to witness their livestock being culled, are not pressing for compensation from the Government, the inquiry was told.

Figures suggest that these farmers are anticipating a loss of about £15,000 because of the movement restrictions imposed on livestock and their inability to sell stock, but union leaders claim they are realistic enough not to expect any compensation.

Northumberland NFU Chairman Stoker Frater told the hearing: "The figures we were given showed an average financial loss of £60,000 per farm and the payment that was received was to the order of £80,000- £100,000, and nothing to those who were not culled.

"The people whose animals were not culled can continue their business, but the people who have been culled have to restart and restock their business and it will take three to five years before any income comes back into that farm. We have all these figures bandied about, but nobody has taken into account the loss of income for that time."

Mr Frater accepted that some farmers had banked compensation cheques for large sums of money, as a result of the compulsory purchase of their stock, but he added: "I have an 81-year-old neighbouring farmer who lost 120 cows and is sitting with a compensation cheque in the bank but who will probably not see any income to his farm for about four to five years."

The Chairman of the Inquiry, Prof Michael Dower, wanted to know whether the farmers were satisfied with the level of compensation and the procedure that was followed by the Government.

Mr Frater replied: "I cannot really answer that. Some of the values for culled livestock have been taken out of proportion but also the cost of re-stocking is going to be out of proportion. Some farmers may have to pay more money for livestock to start again than the compensation that they received."

Prof Dower pressed the farmers' representative about what changes they would like to see to the system for evaluating compensation money.

Regional NFU official Richard Addison said farmers who were compensated early in the crisis suffered financially in terms of compensation because of the introduction of a standard valuation system of culled animals.

He said a standard valuation system, based on the actual cost of re-stocking, should be in place from the start of any future foot and mouth outbreak.


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FOOTPATH CLOSURE 'WENT FURTHER THAN NECESSARY'

THE wholesale closure of footpaths in the County during the foot and mouth crisis went further than necessary and cost businesses thousands of pounds, the inquiry team was told.

Clive Crossley, Countryside Manager at Northumberland County Council, said that in accordance with DEFRA guidelines it was decided to close all footpaths across livestock farms as it was believed that walkers could be a source of spreading the disease.

He added: "We were really operating in an information vacuum." This led to confusion later, meaning that the majority of the County was sealed off.

"By the end of March we did relax this regime and asked farmers to re-open paths where there was no discernible risk, such as woodland areas and where there was no livestock present. "People were asked not to go near livestock. Farmers took it further than anticipated and there were closures that went beyond what was reasonable."

He said all footpaths were closed at the start of the outbreak but that attempts to re-open some were resisted by farmers and landowners worried about the spread of the disease.

But he added that 96 percent of Northumberland's footpaths and rights of way were now open and steps were being taken to re-open the remainder.

The four National Parks in Northumberland were all closed as soon as the outbreak was confirmed. Rob Mayhew, the Park's Recreation and Access Officer, told the hearing that initially the rights of way had been closed without any legal backing.

He also said that Park Rangers had to rely on local knowledge to because the list of infected farms and farms on Form D notices were not always accurate.

James Boulton, of the National Trust, said all properties were closed during the outbreak, resulting in a loss in income of between £300,000 and £500,000, but some properties were more severely affected than others, especially Wallington which had a confirmed outbreak on its doorstep.

But Stoker Frater, Chairman of the National Farmers' Union in Northumberland, said :"There was a lot of mass hysteria and a severe lack of common sense. Common sense should have dictated that people should stay out of infected areas. The main people to suffer were the farmers. The public only suffered inconvenience."


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RAMBLERS BLAST PATHS CLOSURE POLICY

RAMBLERS and open spaces organisations have criticised the 'nonsensica'l approach of closing all the footpaths throughout Northumberland when the initial outbreak of foot and mouth disease was confirmed. And one campaigner claimed he had removed a 'rucksack full' of out of date warning signs in December, adding: "No wonder 'Joe Public' didn't know where he could go."

There were also concerns raised about the methods used to warn people to keep off public rights of way, and the lack of concise and accurate information and guidance coming from DEFRA or the County Council, especially in the light of evidence from the National Veterinary Service that the risk of walkers spreading the disease was minimal.

Officers from the County Council, National Park and National Trust told the panel that it was May 23 before they received any useful guidance from MAFF, nearly three months into the crisis. John Fawcett, representing the Open Spaces Society, slammed the 'misleading and confusing' signals being issued at the height of the crisis in April and May, claiming it made no sense to close all footpaths and then start re-opening them gradually.

He also criticised the use of farmers to place the advisory notices whicht effectively closed the footpaths to the public, claiming: "These notices were put in places where they should not have been, and we have heard that these notices are still there."

The Chairman of the Inquiry, Prof Michael Dower, asked Mr Fawcett what evidence he had that out of date signs were still in place on footpaths, to which he replied: "In one day alone I got a rucksack full of them."

Clive Crossley, the County Council's Countryside Manager, said: "We did issue about 20,000 posters and when the new regulations came out at the end of May we did declare all those notices invalid and allowed people to take them down."

He accepted that using farmers to pin the posters up, which virtually allowed them to close whatever footpaths they wanted, was not the most satisfactory system, adding: "That is a practice that we would not employ again."

Mr Fawcett went on to criticise the information coming from the national media that Northumberland was open to visitors, but when people arrived there were signs everywhere saying that the footpaths were still closed.

"What sort of signals does this give 'Joe Public'? No wonder he didn't know where he could and where he could not go, and as the situation went on things didn't get much better - there was no guidance at all from central Government."


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HOW CAN NORTHUMBERLAND PREVENT FMD'S RETURN?

IF Northumberland wants to prevent the return of foot and mouth and its devastating effects on the rural economy, experts claim that hobby farming must be stamped out, animal health inspectors need to patrol marts and shows and foreign meat imports should stop.

Witnesses from across the County told Northumberland's foot and mouth inquiry panel that current Government policy was not sufficient to prevent a repeat disaster, and that in some cases bio-security restrictions were doing more harm than good.

Simon Lloyd, a former lecturer at Kirkley Hall College, and a smallholder near Horton Grange, argued that before any new measures could be brought in, the education system needed extensive investment. He said: "There is a very real problem with training at the moment, because there has been a systematic cutback in funding, and a drop in the numbers of people being trained to work in agriculture. "Farmers find it very difficult to employ qualified people for all areas of agriculture, including livestock. It raises the question of how we can effectively licence farms and impose new bio-security measures when there is so little education."

At present, the Department of Environment (DEFRA) has imposed a 20-day standstill restriction on all livestock movements.

The National Farmers Union has claimed that these rules could ruin hard-hit farmers in the County, many of whom are struggling to keep their heads above water in the wake of the crisis. Malcolm Corbett, who was County Chairman of the NFU until November 2001 and farms near Otterburn, gave the panel his views on disease prevention during Wednesday afternoons session. He said: "The pastoral farming system we have in Northumberland cannot survive such Draconian measures as the 20-day standstill.

"It will turn small farms into intensive farms, affect animal welfare and I do not believe it is an effective disease-control measure.

"It is simply a way of handcuffing farmers and slowing down the movement of stock, and it comes from DEFRA's ignorance of our livestock industry."

Mr Corbett said he thought the restrictions were a waste of money, which he would prefer to see ploughed into surveillance, with staff on the ground checking stock for symptoms. He said: "To regulate and monitor the 21-day standstill, Trading Standards in Northumberland would need an extra ten or 11 staff, and I think that money would be much better spent on checking livestock at the marts and shows.

"We need surveillance staff who are trained as animal health inspectors to spot the signs of foot and mouth, and to tell the difference between the various types of blisters and ulcers."

From the public gallery, County Trading Standards Office Mick King added: "We need a more robust way of looking at animals at marts and shows. Our officers are already there to an extent, but there is room to make the whole regulatory and enforcement regime more wide-reaching."

The threat posed by stray animals and unregistered stock on so-called hobby farms' was also discussed, and witnesses were unanimous in expressing their concern.

The panel heard how in some instances the movements of pigs, sheep and goats were not being monitored, because their owners were not claiming subsidies for them, and DEFRA had no record of their existence.

Mr Corbett said: "Its thought that this disease entered the UK through the pig industry and although swill feeding has now been banned, we know there are smallholders who keep pigs at the bottom of the garden and take leftovers down to feed them with.

"We simply cannot afford to have hobby farmers bringing this disease back in, with the implications it could have for the farming industry."

Mr Corbett also testified that the livestock industry was coming under threat from meat products imported from countries where foot and mouth was rife

He said: "Until we can control our borders like other countries do, we will have to accept that we are vulnerable to foot and mouth. As it is, people can bring in up to a kilo of meat from abroad, and unless this stops, there will be more damage to agriculture, and to human health.

"The NFU feels that Customs and Excise do not have the resources to prevent the disease from coming back in. We need better X-ray machines at airports, and more manpower, otherwise we will continue to be at risk."


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PANEL STUNNED BY FMD REVELATIONS

MORE than 1,000 cattle were burnt on the Belsay Estate, near Morpeth, without MAFF supervision, leading to a catalogue of errors by untrained contractors and inexperienced soldiers.

Giving evidence at Northumberland County Council's foot and mouth inquiry on Tuesday, Agent Sue Bolam told how the Department for Environment (DEFRA) planned to dig up the ash because carcasses had not been burnt completely, trenches were not dug deep enough, and the ash now posed a possible BSE risk to the local community.

Her testimony shocked the inquiry panel, and the Chairman, Professor Michael Dower, made a series of exclamations, including 'You must be joking! and 'For God's sake!

As the pyre was excavated and burnt, the only staff on site were two Army personnel and a team of County Durham contractors, paid by the hour.

Mrs Bolam told how MAFF had left her to supervise the operation, with no vet or field official on site. She said: "The vet who had worked so well with us during the early stages was removed and never replaced.

"We had no further MAFF personnel at the Estate from March 29 until April 23, and the contractors were being paid by the hour, and consequently worked very slowly. The two soldiers did try their best, but they had no previous experience at all.

"At one point I had to stop the lorries coming on to the site because they had not made a proper roadway all they had done was knock down a wall into a field, with no hogging.

"One of the lorries was full of sheep carcasses, with fluids leaking out of the back, and it was slipping sideways down the hill in the mud. In the end I contacted MAFF and they gave me permission to organise some hogging myself.

"The personnel situation was awful, and we ended up with a large pyre site which no-one from MAFF visited from the moment it was commenced until the end of April."

The Environment Agency has since ordered the pyre site to be dug up, with the ash to be transported to Bedfordshire for landfill.

Mrs Bolam said: "DEFRA told me that the trenches had not been dug deep enough they should have been 3ft deep but they were only 2ft and that the carcasses had not completely burnt away. That is a result of having no direct supervision by MAFF.

"There is also a risk of BSE because cattle over five years old were burnt along with the others. I was told that 15 sites in Northumberland and County Durham have suffered the same fate."

Vet Helen O'Hare, who was based at the Kenton Bar Disease Emergency Control Centre (DECC) for eight months, confirmed that personnel arrangements had been shambolic.

She said: "MAFF were not prepared for this epidemic. Some vets, who had experience and local knowledge, were being used to draw maps of farms, colouring in the fields with cattle one colour, and those with crops another.

"We had small animal vets being asked to diagnose foot and mouth, and many of us were taken to the centre, shown a book, and told 'This is what foot and mouth looks like, off you go. "

In DEFRA's written submission to the inquiry, it explained: "It has to be recognised that the size and scale of the outbreak was unprecedented. "Accordingly the outbreak exceeded the ability of the resources available under the contingency plans to deal with it."


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WHY WIDDRINGTON WAS CHOSEN FOR FMD SITES

PANEL members said they "felt the pain" of Widdrington villagers, during an emotionally charged session at Northumberland County Council's foot and mouth inquiry.

Chairman Professor Michael Dower let Tuesday evening's discussion run on by over an hour, as villagers tried to understand why their village had been chosen to bear the horrors of mass burial. A number of long-lived mysteries were revealed as Prof Dower badgered the Environment Agency and Northumberland County Council about the chronology of events leading up to the excavation of the Seven Sisters Burial Site.

And Coun James Grant, of the Widdrington Liaison Committee, gave a detailed account of the community's struggles to have the pyre and burial sites closed, describing how the disposal programme had left a "huge psychological scar" on the village.

The room fell silent and all eyes were fixed on the floor as he read an emotive letter from Menna Kasicka, who was re-housed to Rothbury from her Druridge home during the crisis. It read: "I have tried to put to the back of my mind the memories of huge lorries full of dead cows and sheep, their legs sticking upwards and their tongues lolling out of their mouths.

"I have tried to forget the huge stinking pyres on the dunes about 100 yards from our house. I have tried to forget the acrid smoke that clung to my eyes and clothing so that I could hardly breathe or see. "I have tried to forget the huge red flames and orange glow that went on and on day and night and was visible from our windows. Worst of all was that smell that of rotting flesh from the fields and burning flesh from the pyres."

Mr Grant claimed the community had been 'deceived'; 'cut out of the loop'; and 'disregarded' during the crisis, and Prof Dower endeavoured to uncover as many secrets as possible for the villagers, telling them: "I feel your pain, I really do."

Under persistent questioning, John Burns of the EA revealed the decision making process which led to the selection of the site. He said: "The Government Office told us there must be a mass disposal site in Northumberland somewhere, but when the Agency looked at the proposed list, we felt that none of the proposals were suitable."

The same list, which did not include Widdrington, had been faxed to Castle Morpeth Borough Council and the County on the Wednesday. Thousands of carcasses were lying rotting in fields throughout the County, and DEFRA hastily decided on Widdrington on the Friday, on the advice of the EA.

Mr Burns said:"We felt that if it was going to go ahead quickly, it would need to be somewhere that did not need major engineering, which a conventional landfill site would have done.

"This pointed towards an area in Northumberland where opencast mining had gone on in the past, and where no problems with ground water could arise because that water supply was already so polluted as to be unusable. Our hydrologist, Martin Kershaw, then identified the Seven Sisters site."

On the Saturday, work began on digging out the pit. John McCall, Director of Protective Services at the County, said: "Within 24 hours of the site being selected, we were brought in as contractors to begin work."

Speaking after the meeting, Widdrington Liaison Committee Member Peter Kull said: "Prof Dower was superb. He really tried his best to get some answers for us in the little time there was available."


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SUFFERING 'LARGELY IGNORED'

THE vast suffering of the Widdrington community was ignored when the foot and mouth compensation system was drawn up, with no special arrangements made to provide a recovery package for the village. Addressing Northumberland County Council's foot and mouth inquiry panel on Tuesday, Coun James Grant of the Widdrington Liaison Committee said the village, which was a 'special case', was now being made to submit compensation applications, with business plans, like any other community in Northumberland.

In contrast, the Chinese community on Stowell Street in Newcastle have had a tailored compensation package for their loss of trade following media speculation about infected swill, as well as a visit from Minister of State for Environment Michael Meacher.

Mr Grant told the panel: "We were promised special treatment when it came to compensation, but it now turns out we are only entitled to the same as everyone else in the County, and will have to go through the same channels.

"We want a package for Widdrington that recognises the enormous burden we have had to bear. The tourist industry and other businesses will recover, but we will always have 138,000 carcasses buried on our doorstep. That will never go away.

"Over the last 50 years, we have also had our countryside raped by open cast and our beach whittled away by sand extraction. Widdrington has had enough, and we are not going to take any more. "We want the Government to recognise that, we want a visit from a Minister, and we want proper compensation."

Mr Grant said that when questions were asked of the Environment Minister in the House of Commons, the reply was that no special provision had been made for Widdrington.

Mr Grant said: "We are trying to build our community up ourselves - we have a new housing estate in the village which we hope will attract new families, and we want some financial help, as well as a promise that no-one else will come into Widdrington and blight our lives."


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FARMERS TELL OF PAIN AND PRICE OF CRISIS

TWO Castle Morpeth farmers have told of the pain and financial loss foot and mouth restrictions brought to their communities during the outbreak.

Giving evidence to the Northumberland County Council foot and mouth inquiry, Ian Robson, of Kirkwhelpington, and John Goodfellow, of Longwitton, gave eloquent and emotionally charged accounts of the stress and suffering the crisis caused to farmers and other businesses in infected areas. Although neither experienced the horror of having their stock slaughtered, they watched their animals suffer in cramped sheds and on bare winter pastures, became isolated from their friends and families, and were forced to lay off valued staff to avoid financial ruin.

Over three quarters of Northumberland farmers were hit by the damaging Form-D movement restrictions imposed by the Department of Agriculture (MAFF), and experts told Monday's panel how in many cases, their losses exceeded those on culled farms, because they were left to absorb the damage with no prospect of compensation.

Mr Goodfellow, who runs Otterburn Towers Country House Hotel, as well as his Longwitton farm, said both businesses had been severely damaged, with the farm alone losing tens of thousands during 2001. He said: "Although my farm didn't have have foot and mouth, the Form-D movement restrictions meant we had a very traumatic time.

"All my stock was devalued by about 40 percent, which has had a huge financial effect. We laid off two full-time staff from the farm, which had an impact on livestock welfare and other aspects of management. "We were also reduced to 20 staff at the hotel, and lost our head chef, because business in both the hotel and the restaurant was dead from day one of the outbreak.

"I'm not expecting compensation, because I don't believe in gifts dropping from heaven. We had Form-D notices from two different infected farms but there has been no mention of compensation for us, and I haven't discovered any channel through which I could apply.

"We suffered personally as well, because we had family and friends on infected premises and we didn't see them for months."

Mr Robson, who farms on the banks of the River Wansbeck, was roped into the Tynedale Blue Box, despite being 30 miles from the centre of the Allendale outbreak.

The effect on his farm was catastrophic, but he also runs a butchers shop, where business has picked up since the outbreak, because consumers have become increasingly keen to buy meat from known sources in their local area.

He said: "The Form D restrictions meant that some of my animals were stranded, away from the home farm, and couldn't be brought back.

"They were imprisoned in their winter quarters, and once the feed ran out, we found ourselves in the situation of having a large number of animals on bare pastures.

"They didn't thrive, and I now have 550 cattle and 500 lambs which should have been sold by now, but were not fat enough.

"That is £50,000 worth of stock still sitting on the farm, when that money could be in my bank account. There will be no compensation for farmers who have suffered consequential losses, and many are prepared to suffer those losses if that is the price of stamping out the disease.

"I have farmed through three foot and mouth outbreaks - 1960 to 1961, 1967 and 2001. These latest restrictions have been the most severe and damaging by far - in the past those farms which were not infected more or less returned to normal after the outbreak. If these restriction become permanent, with 20-day movement licenses, it will destroy farming in Northumberland."


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FMD 'ANOTHER TURN OF THE SCREW' FOR FARMERS

NORTHUMBERLAND farmers are not poised to desert the industry in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis, nor do they want radical changes to the hill farming economy, inquiry panel members heard on Thursday.

Expert witnesses told Northumberland County Council's foot and mouth inquiry that despite receiving compensation payments for culled stock, farmers in the County were not using the cash to diversify, or even to get out altogether, but instead were keen to return to the status quo.

Summarising the written evidence, inquiry Chairman Professor Michael Dower said: "Although foot and mouth was a crisis in itself, for many farmers it was merely another vicious turn of the screw. "Those farmers whose stock was culled were given compensation for their animals, which was a once in a lifetime sum of money to do with as they pleased.

"We have heard that in Northumberland, most of these farmers have decided to continue in the same direction and maintain the status quo. There seems to be a real desire for conservatism and continuity among farmers in the County."

Dr Nic Best, of Morpeth, representing the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said he believed the spirit of conservatism extended to farming methods, albeit that enhanced bio-security would be necessary to prevent a future outbreak.

He said that an overhaul of farming methods was not desirable, and that a traditional approach would not only help preserve farming communities, but would also maintain the local tourism industry.

Dr Best told the panel: "The landscape of the Northumberland countryside is a wonderful economic asset, and farmers are the moulders and stewards of that asset. "In so far as traditional farming methods have helped maintain the quality of the landscape, farmers should be supported in carrying on with those methods.

"We need a working countryside if we are to retain the Countys attractiveness to tourists, because there is no use having a chocolate box picture landscape when there are no chocolates in the box."

Professor Philip Lowe, Director of The Centre for Rural Economy, brought his vast knowledge of Northumbrian agriculture to the table during Thursday afternoons session, and said that politicians had widely misinterpreted the unique culture of farming communities.

He said: "People have assumed that the crisis will bring a radical change to farming, with many farmers opting to get out while they can.

"But commentators have underestimated the resilience of the rural economy. Farms are family businesses and many of the jobs that were reported as lost were in fact temporary, seasonal jobs that were simply not taken up during the Summer.

"In family businesses, jobs are not lost during a crisis like this because a farmer will not lay off his brother or his wife.

"These businesses are used to suffering lean times, which can be a regular occurrence because of bad weather and other misfortunes, and they will cope by cutting down on family expenditure, or choosing not to take on seasonal staff."

However Richard Ellison, Regional Director of the National Farmers Union, argued that many farmers would have taken early retirement after the crisis, had the Government signed up to an EU regime which would have made that option viable.

He said: "The main problem with farming is that it is not profitable. The average age is 57 or 58, and although most of the people who have been culled out want to return, if early retirement had been on offer, I think many would have taken it. Then they may have had a chance of leaving the industry with their dignity still intact."


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ONE-WOMAN PROTEST HOLDS UP FOOT AND MOUTH INQUIRY

PROCEEDINGS at County Hall, Morpeth, were thrown into disarray when a woman in the public gallery expressed her disgust at the handling of the foot and mouth crisis, by shouting over invited witnesses. Despite being allowed to speak on two occasions during the week-long hearing, Ellie Logan, of Wigton, Cumbria, forced the Northumberland foot and mouth inquiry to suspend its morning session on Friday.

She was eventually escorted off the premises by County Council staff, after being warned that the Police had been summoned to Loansdean to deal with the disturbance.

During her outburst, Mrs Logan railed against Ministry policy on everything from slaughter to compensation, and despite attempts by the Chairman, Professor Michael Dower, to call the meeting to order, she continued to shout above the invited speakers for a full five minutes.

The inquiry considered 130 written and oral submissions, and proceedings ran smoothly throughout the week as the Chairman strove to cover a vast range of issues even-handedly.

Even the emotive session on Tuesday afternoon, which heard evidence from Widdrington villagers whose lives were blighted by mass carcass disposal close to their homes, was conducted with dignity and restraint.

As she retreated towards the County Hall car park, Mrs Logan said: "One in ten farmers have been made redundant by foot and mouth and I think this inquiry has been a whitewash. It has been very smoothly chaired so as to avoid talking about the real issues.

"Ive been thrown out of this inquiry and I think democracy has taken a real dusting here today." A spokesman for Northumberland County Council said: "Mrs Logan was given a fair opportunity to make her point during the inquiry, and was called on to speak at least twice.

"This morning, she was asked to sit down but continued to disrupt proceedings and it was necessary to adjourn the session while she was escorted from the building.

"The inquiry has run very smoothly so far, and the panel has covered a lot of material very successfully. We have had a well-ordered and constructive week."


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FARMERS IN DARK AS CRISIS DEEPENED

CASTLE Morpeth farmers experienced immense stress because they were left to suffer in an information vacuum at the outset of the foot and mouth crisis, the National Farmers' Union has claimed. As neighbouring farms fell victim to the disease and pyre smoke blew across their fields, many waited for weeks on end for contact with the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF), fearing that a decision to cull their stock could be made at any time.

Giving information to the Northumberland County Council Foot and Mouth Inquiry on Tuesday, Morpeth NFU Secretary Stephen Rank said that some farms in the Borough were never issued with movement restriction (Form D) notices, despite diagnosis and culling on nearby farms.

As he made a series of shocking allegations about MAFF'S inefficiency, Mr Rank said: "Many farmers neighbouring infected premises waited for weeks for phone calls, and some had no contact with the Ministry at all.

"Some farms which should have been culled were simply written off because MAFF could not cope, and because MAFF did not have accurate information on which farms neighboured others, some stock which should have been culled was missed."

The NFU also claimed that MAFF policy was applied inconsistently by poorly briefed staff, causing confusion among the farming community.

Mr Rank said: "Some people were told to burn their troughs and gates, and some were not. Some farms which had corn as well as livestock were told to burn their crops, and some weren't."

Before early April, when MAFF implemented a policy of culling all animals on neighbouring farms within 48 hours of diagnosis, the County's farmers were plagued by uncertainty.

"Some farms which were next door to infected premises never received D-notices, because their neighbours were diagnosed between March 17 and April 3. Some never had contact with MAFF at all," Mr Rank told the panel. One farmer who suffered a dreadful period of worry was Douglas Carmichael, of Berwick Hill, near Ponteland.

Presenting his evidence to the inquiry, he said: "We received a Form D notice, then nothing else happened. It was about two weeks later when we got a call from a MAFF vet saying he wanted to inspect the animals."

Mr Carmichael's stock was not blood tested until months later, and none of his animals were culled, despite grazing next door to an infected farm.

He said: "It was a very stressful time because the smell from the pyres on the adjoining farm was awful, and it was only one field away from my boundary. "We had to be very vigilant and check the stock every morning. On two occasions I thought my animals might be infected and rang the Control Centre at Kenton Bar."

Three different MAFF vets visited Mr Carmichael's farm during the outbreak, and physical inspections were carried out.

He said: "The farm next door was declared an infected premises just before the 48-hour policy was brought in. The Control Centre was also in the process of moving from Carlisle to Newcastle at that time.

"I feel we escaped culling by chance and by the skin of our teeth. It was simply down to a matter of timing."

In its written submission to the inquiry, DEFRA said: "Means of communication included a dedicated FMD website updated continuously during the day, regular press conferences, telephone helplines, letters to farmers on biosecurity and leaflets on foot and mouth. Communications were kept as open as possible.

"Our policy was to cull all susceptible livestock on farms neighbouring an infected farm within 48-hours of the first report of the disease by the farmer. This contiguous premises policy was not introduced until the end of March."


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MINISTRY'S ABSENCE 'WILL HAMPER HEARING'

THE absence of the Department of Agriculture from the County Council's foot and mouth inquiry will limit its ability to give people in Northumberland the answers they deserve, according to the Chairman of the panel.

The week-long inquiry will cover a range of themes, including the scope and impact of the outbreak, action taken and the future of rural Northumberland in the wake of the crisis.

Invited guests will discuss issues ranging from vaccination to compensation with a panel of local politicians, who will publish their findings in February.

The Chairman, Professor Michael Dower, told the inquiry's opening: "The panel very much regrets that neither DEFRA, nor the Army, nor the state veterinary service, will be submitting oral evidence or answering questions on their involvement. "They played a major part in the handling of the outbreak, and their absence will limit our ability to make a fair assessment of some issues. But it does not invalidate the inquiry, and we propose to do our best in their absence."

In their reply to the County's invitation, DEFRA said they believed the Government's three separate inquiries would answer all the relevant questions, and that although the Northumberland inquiry offered a local perspective, they could not spare staff to give oral evidence.

In his introduction, Prof Dower criticised the timing of the Government's inquiries, and said the people of Northumberland needed answers sooner rather than later.

He said: "The Government has announced three separate inquiries, the most relevant of which is the Lessons Learned Inquiry, which is not due to report until June. The timing does not address the feeling of urgency which exists among people in Northumberland.

"The County Council wants this inquiry to enable a public discussion on the outbreak and the impact it has had, to learn lessons which can help us avoid and cope with future outbreaks, and to create a recovery plan which will look ahead to the future of rural Northumberland."

The inquiry runs until Friday at County Hall, Morpeth, from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend.


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COMMUNITY 'WAS PUT AT RISK'

MINISTRY policy during the foot and mouth crisis caused severe psychological harm to Widdrington villagers, as well as exposing them to pollution and land slippage risks which were not properly assessed before decisions were made, panel members heard on Tuesday.

Speaking at the County foot and mouth inquiry, Coun James Grant, of the Widdrington Liaison Committee, said no air and water assessments had been carried out for the pyre site, and that tyres and railway sleepers were used as accelerants, creating huge clouds of toxic black smoke.

Castle Morpeth's Senior Environmental Health Officer, Alan Purdue, submitted a detailed dossier of evidence on contamination risks at the Hemscott Hill and Seven Sisters sites.

It shows how DEFRA's failure to consult the Borough on the pyre site meant officials got the wind direction wrong, meaning toxic ash blew across villages rather than out to sea.

In his oral evidence, he said: "We were never consulted on the sites, and no proper environmental controls were set up, which the Borough views as lamentable.

"It is still not possible to say what will happen to the leachate at the burial site, even nine months later. Because of the mine workings underneath, it could move, with disastrous results."

Nichol Black, Consultant in Communicable Diseases with Northumberland Health Authority, said the real extent of the damage was not yet known.

He said: "The microbiological risk is ongoing and we do not know what will happen as a result of all those putrefied carcasses buried near the village.

"I think the community was put at huge psychological risk by the decisions DEFRA took. At the height of the protest, we contacted DEFRA directly and asked them to close the site, on the grounds of psychological harm to the community."

COUNTY GETS ALL-CLEAR

FARMERS' leaders are delighted that Northumberland has finally been given the all clear for foot and mouth, nearly 11 months after the first case blighted the County.

Ironically, the announcement to remove the at risk status of the area came on the first day of the County Council's Independent inquiry at County Hall.

NFU President Ben Gill said it was excellent news that would help draw a line under eleven months of hell. However, it could still be some weeks before the County is officially recognised as clear of the disease by the rest of the world. This follows the completion of a massive programme of screening for signs of the disease carried out by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The reclassification of Northumberland had been delayed due to the need for further detailed investigations into some blood test results which suggested that sheep could have been exposed to the disease.

The investigations showed that no active virus was present and it was this finding that finally lifted the cloud that has been hanging over the area since February last year.


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GOVERNMENT FMD AID MAY SOON DRY UP

THE recovery of the Countys rural economy was the major talking point on day four of the Northumberland foot and mouth inquiry, but the hearing was told that Government cash aid only lasts until the end of March.

So far the County has benefited from £7.2m, but this pot is set to run dry - and the fear is that future grants may have to be match-funded by individual districts in order to get the money.

OneNortheast is responsible for the hand-outs at the moment and said the way ahead would be for the Northumberland Strategic Partnership to bid for Government funds. The partnership is the body which looks after the overall regeneration of the County.

Miles Middleton, from OneNortheasts Regional Rural Task Force, said: "We are aware that Single Regeneration Budget funding has disappeared into a single pot fund coming from Central Government. "The Partnership must place a bid for this money so it can implement a strategic rural action plan. "It will be up to the Partnership to deliver this and there will be monitoring of progress.

"This region was initially handed £5m, but because there was a second outbreak it rose to £7.2m in total. That is going to run out by the end of March."

Inquiry Chairman, Prof Michael Dower, asked: "There have been various references made to the medium and long-term recovery but what about the immediate and shorter-term recovery?"

He was told programmes would be taking place from April and that farmers would not be left to suffer. Representing Castle Morpeth Council at Thursdays hearing was Principal Regeneration Officer, David Andrew. He said it was a worry that funding was going to run dry by March and urged the Government to pump cash into Northumberland.

Speaking after the inquiry session, he said: "It is of paramount importance that the organisations at Government level who did not attend this public inquiry pick up the panels recommendations and act upon them.

"The hope is that when the recommendations do emerge from the inquiry they particularly make reference to funding support for Northumberland.

"There is a need for recovery funding over and above what we have already received. The money that has been made available will finish by the end of March unless the Government and DEFRA listen to the recommendations of this inquiry."

Her added: "It is very important for Castle Morpeth to take an interest in this five-day inquiry and also vital that the Council is an active member of the Northumberland Strategic Partnership. We also have a good working relationship with the County Council.

"At least all the relevant parties are now at the table talking about the recovery of the Countys economy, and it is hoped that the County Council will endorse the inquiry report."


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MAKING A SPECIAL CASE FOR WIDDRINGTON

THE idea of Widdrington being declared a rural enterprise zone has come under scrutiny at the foot and mouth inquiry.

Inquiry Chairman, Professor Michael Dower, made the suggestion after the panel heard the village had suffered worse than other parts of the County, due to the mass burial site and funeral pyre at nearby Druridge Bay.

Prof Dower said: "Parts of Cumbria have been declared as Rural Action Zones and some people here are arguing for that to happen in Northumberland.

"While it is clear that the whole of the County has suffered because of the outbreak, some areas are special cases and Widdrington is among them. Allendale and Heddon-on-the-Wall should also be considered in this as well.

"I would like to know what OneNortheast thinks about individual areas being granted this special action status."

Miles Middleton, of OneNortheasts Regional Rural Task Force, told the hearing: "There is a serious case for Widdrington and the other areas to get the special status. The only point I would make is that if you do have an Enterprise Zone then historically they should have a short lifespan."

Commenting on the prospect of Widdrington becoming a Rural Enterprise Zone, Castle Morpeth Councils Principal Regeneration Officer, David Andrew, said: "There does need to be targeted support for the people of Widdrington and Widdrington Station, whether or not it is some sort of rural action zone. The area should come the front of the queue when additional funds become available.

"In my opinion, the best way forward for Widdrington is for additional resources to be ring fenced for specific problems that have arisen in the area. It is also important that other communities dont think they are going to miss out if this area is targeted."


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Too much time spent battling beaurocracy - Beith

BERWICK MP Alan Beith has claimed that untold damage was done to Northumbrian farming by the Government's refusal to split the County into two zones during the resurgence of foot and mouth disease at Allendale.

Mr Beith told Northumberland County Councils foot and mouth inquiry that farms in Castle Morpeth, Wansbeck and North Northumberland should have been demoted to at risk status while Blue Box restrictions were in force in the Tyne Valley.

During the outbreak, Yorkshire and Powys were sub-divided by the Department of Environment (DEFRA) to prevent foot and mouth restrictions in one area crippling farms at the opposite end of the County.

As he addressed Friday mornings session at County Hall, Morpeth, Mr Beith also claimed that decisions by the Scottish Assembly to ban Northumberland livestock being slaughtered at abattoirs across the border had caused unnecessary suffering to farmers in his constituency.

He said: "The decision to stop livestock crossing the border for slaughter caused a great deal of difficulty for farmers whose stock value was already plummeting.

"Because of movement restrictions, it was often impossible for them to move the animals South. I dont think there was any scientific basis for the decision, and there was certainly no justification for continuing the ban for as long as they did.

"During the outbreak, about half my time was spent helping farmers who were battling bureaucracy of this sort.

"They were also under heavy restrictions because there was a continuing outbreak many miles away at Hexham, and I feel the North of the County could have been released much earlier than it was."

Mr Beith also claimed that foot and mouth questions from MPs across the UK were not being handled adequately by DEFRA, and claimed that of 2,800 letters received from MPs during the crisis, 1,400 had still not been replied to four moths later.

He said: "The bureaucracy has failed and and it has been very difficult for me to get answers on behalf of my constituents. Information on issues such as bio-security was also poor, inconsistent and confusing."


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Widdrington deserves better - Beith

THE Governments foot and mouth compensation system should be extended to cover consequential losses caused by the crisis, according to Berwick MP Alan Beith.

Mr Beith also expressed his disappointment that the Widdrington community had received no special compensation for the burden of mass disposal it suffered, when he addressed Northumberland County Council's foot and mouth inquiry on Friday.

Department of Environment (DEFRA) policy is to recompense only those farmers who had livestock culled as a result of the epidemic.

Other farms which lost thousands through disease restrictions, as well as tourist businesses and firms providing ancillary services to farms, will receive no compensation, despite suffering extensive damage.

He said: "Widdrington bore the terrible cost of mass disposal, as well as suffering an outbreak in the surrounding area.

"I was horrified to hear the Environment Agency giving evidence at the inquiry which explained that Widdrington had been chosen for the site because it was already polluted. "That meant that an area which had suffered severe environmental degradation over the years was dealt another massive blow.

"At the time, ministers and senior officials indicated that there would help for that area after the outbreak was over, and they seemed sympathetic to the question of compensation. "But now they are saying that Widdrington will only receive the EU money it is entitled to anyway. "We need to ask the Government to match the funding, as a special case, which will help unlock the European money.

"I also think those areas which were under foot and mouth for a long time should be given some extra help.

"If local authorities were given funds to distribute which would help recovery in their area, they could use it to improve infrastructure, bring back tourists and attract investment from businesses."


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Bringing tourists back in wake of FMD

TOURISM chiefs are prepared to take radical steps to attract tourists back to Northumberland and restore confidence in the region, as the industry struggles to halt the crippling repercussions of the foot and mouth outbreak.

Northumberland County Councils foot and mouth inquiry heard that Northumbria Tourist Board was planning a complete strategy overhaul, with a huge increase to its marketing budget.

Friday morning's concluding session was also told that the County Council had set up a County-wide marketing fund, as well as producing a 2002 Holiday Guide, with free entries for every hotel and bed and breakfast in Northumberland.

The importance of the County's footpath network, which was never so evident as when it was closed during the crisis, was also discussed at length, with calls to speed up the vast improvement programme already under way.

Addressing the panel, Northumbria Tourist Board Chief Executive Peter Sloyan said: "In the past we have spent 80 percent on development, which includes business support, customer care and training, and 20 percent on marketing. We will now change our focus and spend 80 percent on marketing.

"People will still be able to access business development and support, but it will through the Regional Partnership now. We will concentrate on marketing the assets on the ground."

County Communications and Marketing Manager Stacy Hall said the Council would focus on attracting Scandinavian tourists in the coming year.

She said: "Our campaign for 2002 centres around a Holiday Guide, and we have featured businesses at no cost, rather than asking for payment at this difficult time. We have also set up a County-wide marketing fund, and held a tourism workshop to find out where Northumberland tourism is heading in the future.

"We will focus our campaign on international markets, particularly Holland, Germany and Norway. We have to allow for the fact that foot and mouth is not well understood abroad. The Tourist Board has even received calls asking whether people in England have enough to eat.

"We need to dispel those myths, and to concentrate on marketing Northumberland's famous landmarks, such as Alnwick Castle and Hadrian's Wall."

The Countryside Alliance expressed concern that too much emphasis was being placed on marketing, and Regional Chairman Richard Dodd said he feared struggling farmers could be lured into setting up their own tourism businesses, only to face failure in an overcrowded market place. He said: "The importance of diversification for rural businesses has been over-emphasised. A village will sustain one, or maybe two bed and breakfasts, but if everyone diversifies at once, there will inevitably be some who will not succeed.

"We are also concerned that many people are being given grants for marketing only, which means that money is just being handed straight over to the newspapers."

With walking holidays among Northumberlands most popular attractions, the panel was keen to hear how the County could be made more attractive to ramblers.

John Fawcett of the Open Spaces Society said: "If we are going to attract tourists and visitors back to Northumberland, we need rights of way that are properly maintained.

"On paper, 90 percent of rights of way are open, but in practice that is not true. Many footpaths are run down and overgrown because of years of underfunding.

"The repairs programme was already in arrears before the foot and mouth crisis, and now we are even further behind, so more funding is necessary if we are going to get our footpaths back into a decent condition."

Tony Jones, Area Footpaths Secretary for the Ramblers Association, said he would like to see part of the County Councils rates ring-fenced for maintenance and improvements. He said: "We need assurances that money will be set aside for rights of way because they are so vital for tourism in Northumberland."


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Would vaccination have been better option?

PANEL members heard impassioned argument against the Government's foot and mouth slaughter policy, with pro-vaccination campaigners claiming that hundreds of thousands of livestock were culled needlessly during the crisis.

During Tuesday afternoons session at the Northumberland County Council foot and mouth inquiry, the public gallery was drawn into the debate as farmers and animal rights supporters claimed that vaccination would have been a viable option for dealing with the outbreak.

Alderman John Whaley, of Bolam Kennels, Belsay, who had first-hand experience of the 1967 outbreak, told the panel that the 2001 epidemic had burnt itself out, with Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) policy proving useless at containing the disease.

He said: "In 1967, the day after diagnosis, there would be men and machines on site for slaughter, with the carcasses buried in quicklime and the trenches covered by nightfall. There are no signs of those pits now.

"And in 1968, local vets dealt quickly with another outbreak in the North West and stopped it spreading elsewhere.

"Since then MAFF has reduced its facilities to a point where they were non-existent in February 2001. "I don't believe this latest outbreak was wiped out by slaughter - I think it burnt itself out.

"Efforts to control the disease in the early stages were thwarted because MAFF had handed responsibility over to Europe, which would not allow vaccination.

"A vaccination policy would have been easier and cheaper, but the slaughter policy Government scientists adopted lamentably failed to stop the foot and mouth outbreak."

Richard Dodd, Regional Chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said the speed at which the disease was spread meant a slaughter policy was the only practical option.

He said: "The epidemic was out of the blocks and three times round the track before we got wind of it, and because of the time scale, slaughter was the right policy this time.

"But we need to hear more detailed scientific evidence on slaughter versus vaccination, and I think in the future there may be a place for vaccination followed by slaughter."

In the public gallery, Mrs Ellie Logan had come to the inquiry armed with information on vaccination technology, after seeing her sisters livestock slaughtered at her Cumbrian farm.

She said: "According to the evidence I have here, it would have been practicable, possible and cheap to have administered a vaccine many months ago which would have controlled this outbreak.

"That is the truth of the matter, and thousands of animals could have been saved if the Government had looked properly at the evidence."


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FMD inquiry part of the healing process

THE County Councils week-long foot and mouth inquiry gave Northumbrians a chance to vent their "distress and anger", and may have played a part in the County's healing process, according to the Chairman of the panel. In his closing remarks on Friday morning, Professor Michael Dower said he had been impressed with the way witnesses and members of the public had conducted themselves during the hearing, despite the painful nature of their evidence. Prof Dower also referred to the absence of the Department of Environment (DEFRA) from the inquiry, and said that although it had blunted the panels ability to draw accurate conclusions, they would "do their best" without DEFRA's assistance.

He said: "I hope this inquiry has played a part in the healing process, which is a necessary first step on Northumberland's road to recovery.

"We have heard much of the suffering caused by this dreadful episode, and have been very moved by the evidence given around this table.

"We have also been troubled by some aspects of the way the outbreak was handled. But we have all been impressed with the stoicism and restraint shown by the many people who have been affected, and have seen how communities in Northumberland have supported one another through this terrible crisis.

"There has been widespread anger and distress and I hope this inquiry has at least allowed these feelings to surface."

DEFRA refused to give oral evidence at the inquiry, but submitted written statements in advance, as well as responding to six further questions composed by the panel.

Prof Dower said: "DEFRA have done themselves a disservice by not coming to this inquiry and they could have explained many things to the panel.

"Their absence has blunted our ability to examine the evidence, and although we have done our best without them, we are now faced with the difficult decision of submitting more detailed questions to them."

It took the Minister, Lord Whitty, 11 days to answer the panel's questions on DEFRAs behalf, and with the inquiry report due for publication in February, Prof Dower said he feared further delays if more information was requested at this stage.