Letter received by Nick Green from Mr Ralph Howard in reply to his letter of September 26 and then Oct 16th to Mr Louis Victory at the Cumbria County Council.

Dear Mr Green


The correspondence that you have sent to Mr Victory relating to your concerns about the Cumbria FMD Inquiry on 26 September and 16 October has been passed to me for action. The FMD Inquiry was solely an initiative of the County Council, a reflection of local frustration with the Government's refusal to agree to a full Public Inquiry. Its approach differed significantly from that taken by Devon and Northumberland, both in terms of panel composition and in terms of pure scale. The terms of reference were forward looking from the outset - at the Cumbria Taskforce meeting in March 2002 Professor Thomas was clear in his intentions to ensure that it was balanced but firmly critical where it needed to be. The focus, as far as the actual report was concerned, was to make recommendations to help ensure that the many mistakes that were made would not happen again.

Cumbria County Council maintained the position that there was a moral compulsion to attend the Inquiry if called, and only DEFRA did not formally engage with the process, instead answering written questions submitted by Professor Thomas. At no stage did the County Council articulate any intention to pursue legal action against the Government to apportion liability - the approach has consistently been to ensure that the problems encountered in the 2001 outbreak would not be repeated.

Equally important in the Inquiry process was the opportunity for organisations, individuals and communities to have their say and achieve a semblance of closure. Whilst it is not possible to secure this objective completely, the Inquiry made the utmost effort to go beyond the formal hearings to hold evening community meetings, at which the experiences, anger and frustration of Cumbrian communities raised and recorded for the Inquiry findings, was aired by members of the public who had not been afforded this opportunity by any other means.

Your letter of 16 October infers (sic) that there was conflict amongst the Inquiry Panel. This was not the case - my understanding is that there was not a cross word from anyone throughout the Inquiry. Moreover, there was every opportunity for individuals to raise their particular point of view - and several did, reflecting their diverse nature of expertise. This is both a desirable and appropriate component that led to the production of a balanced and substantially well received report.

With regard to the financial aspects of the inquiry, it is a matter of public record that it cost in the order of £95,000. This has been funded by Cumbria County Council, from historic receipts from the sale of assets, and will not result in a rise in Council Tax. Cumbria County Council does not expect to recoup this sum, but felt it was necessary to provide the Inquiry to allow Cumbria to learn from the lessons of the outbreak and move on.

Cumbria County Council considered thoroughly the appointment of Inquiry Chair, and is fully satisfied with Professor Thomas's credentials, and his performance in finding a balance between the many different stakeholders and community groups who were touched by the blight of FMD. We are grateful for his efforts, as we are to the Inquiry Panel and the Secretariat for their commitment, impartiality and immense hard work. Both the report and the process behind it are a credit to this hard work.

Whilst 1 am sure that this letter will not satisfy the many concerns you have raised about FMD and the Cumbria Inquiry, I hope that the position of Cumbria County Council, in regard to this matter, is now clear. You will be aware of the question put to Lord Whitty by Lord Inglewood in the House on 16 October. Furthermore, the EU Temporary Committee, which received the Cumbria report, has incorporated many of the Inquiries into the Committee's proposals. Both of these developments demonstrate the importance of the report in influencing decision making in terms of the management of any future outbreak.

This letter will be posted on the Warmwell site following your decision to make your letters to Mr Victory public.

Yours sincerely

Ralph Howard

Director of Community, Economy and Environment