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Prologue. Death and Destruction.

 

When, on Monday 19 February 2001, reports came through of suspect food and mouth case in an abattoir in Essex, few could have realised that this was the start of a crisis which would grip the nation, rock the government and foment near-riot in the countryside - much less lead to the needless slaughter of millions of animals. Nor could anyone have even guessed at what would come to light as the crisis progressed

 

Initially, commentators were quick to pick up the link between the Essex slaughterhouse and Burnside pig farm in Heddon-on-the Wall, Northumberland, owned by brothers Bobby and Ronnie Waugh, which had supplied it with sows. The obvious inferences were drawn. Here, exposed for all to see, was the effect of the Ministry of Agriculture' s policy of closing down hundreds of small slaughterhouses, necessitating the transport of animals hundreds of miles, taking infection with them and spreading it through the country.

 

But, no sooner had the spotlight settled on Essex and the cluster of cases around the abattoir, the focus shifted to Hexham, Carlisle and Longtown markets, and then Welshpool. On 21 February, the EU Commission announced an immediate export ban. Animals, which had mixed freely at the docks, were returned to their farms, helping spread the disease. Two days later, the government had imposed a total freeze on animal movements and the countryside was closed for the duration. France ordered the slaughter of 20,000 sheep imported from Britain since 1 February, the Netherlands destroyed over 4,000, plus deer and other livestock. Once again, the UK was the leper of Europe.

 

Meat prices soared as slaughterhouses were closed down, only some of which were reopened under license to allow a trickle of animals to be killed. Producer prices crashed while retail prices soared. Prime Minister Blair blamed the supermarkets for having an ' armlock' on the farmers, while the pundits blamed intensive farming and ' cheap food' for the crisis.

 

Politically, the Labour government secretly welcomed the epidemic. On 27 February, the Countryside Alliance had been forced to call off its ' freedom' march, scheduled for 18 March, when more than 500,000 countryfolk had been expected to parade through the centre of London to protest about the proposed hunting ban. Now confined to quarters, they were safely neutralised, leaving the way clear for an early general election on 3 May, a date then about as secret as the fact that Friday followed Thursday. And, with a mere 30 outbreaks reported by 1 March, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was confidently claiming that the outbreak was under control

 

Meantime, the government had launched a policy of ' slash and burn' , putting flocks and herds in quarantine and moving in with death squads. Supposedly a well-tested policy, based on the experience of the last great epidemic of 1967, it soon transpired that it was anything but ' tried and tested' . In fact, the bureaucrats had been at work, in form of EU Commission officials, codifying procedures in Council Directives 85/511/EEC and 90/423/EEC. Add to that the little known ' groundwater directive' which effectively prohibited the burial of diseased carcases, and the scene was set for chaos.

 

Firstly, there were only 217 vets in the field - chasing up over 43,000 sheep from just one market. There was the rigidity of the MAFF' s rules which required their officials to be present at each of three crucial stages, the testing of the animals, their slaughter and their disposal. Then, under the influence of the groundwater directive, the government' s Environment Agency ignored the experience of 1967, where quick burial was the preferred option, and plumped for open air burning. Soon, the television screens were filled with the awesome spectacle of funeral pyres, with thousands of animals being incinerated in a ghastly, EU-inspired ritual. But just as quickly came reports of many more thousands of massacred animals left in fields to rot. Vets who had been to infected sites had to be stood down for five days before going onto a ' clean' site, and the process started to grind to a halt. The Ministry had simply run out of staff.

 

On Sunday 4 March, the outbreaks had risen to 69 and gruesome stories started emerging of bungled kills. Amateur hired killers had run amok, blasting pigs with shotguns after they had been stampeded by cattle being killed in their presence, one was filmed taking pot-shots at sheep in an open field while others gunned down cows from the back of a fast-moving pick-up truck. Despite this, the services of experienced hunt slaughtermen were initially refused for fear their use might bolster the pro-hunt lobby at the time the Bill to ban hunting was going through Parliament.

 

By 8 March, farmers were being told that they faced weeks more of misery as the government' s chief vet, Jim Scudamore, warned that the crisis would last a ' long time' . The number of outbreaks had risen to 106 and the epidemic looked distinctly out of control. March 12 then saw an outbreak of the disease in France - blamed on the import of live sheep from England. Ireland and then the Netherlands reported outbreaks. Numbers continued rising in the UK, with spread into Scotland, Wales and most areas of the England. Things were looking even bleaker.

 

Losses by then were multiplying, tourism was badly affected. The situation had got so bad that, on 15 March, MAFF announced plans for a ' pre-emptive strike' , the indiscriminate killing of all animals in the 3km zones around infected farms. What seemed then the fantastic figure of a million sheep were to die and, although cattle were originally included, Nick Brown had to issue a hasty retraction, adding to the sense of crisis and confusion.

 

By 18 March, outbreaks had topped 300. The butcher' s bill was estimated at #9 billion, with no end in sight. The Government was increasingly being accused of incompetence so, on 19 March, Scudamore was co-opted to visit farmers in Cumbria to justify the government' s actions. Access was carefully controlled. According to David Handley, chairman of the pressure group, Farmers for Action

 

The farmers who were opposed to the cull were totally barred from attending. We asked if we could sit quietly at the back and at least hear what was being discussed. After all, this is our livelihood being discussed here. We were refused entry on all counts. The only people allowed in were NFU officials, selected vets and the mainstream press. It was a totally one-sided affair. We then asked Scudamore for a private meeting. We were informed that in order for that to happen, we would have to make a request in writing.<1>

 

For public consumption, Scudamore complained that the Ministry was having difficulty tracing many of the sheep suspected of carrying the disease, attributing the problem to ' the lack of movement documentation for many animals' .

 

Part of the reason why so many sheep had gone missing was the EU' s sheep subsidy system which had encouraged a few ' rogue' dealers to shift ewes around the country to gather more subsidies than they had qualifying sheep. A new meaning to the term ' bed and breakfasting' broke into the public consciousness. It was learned that sheep had been trucked into fields overnight, ready for visiting inspectors to count, only to be moved on the next day to be counted again in a different field - a black market in ' black' sheep.

 

As prime minister Blair jetted off to an EU Summit in Stockholm, dropping in to see selected farmers in Cumbria - another carefully stage-managed visit - his election plans were beginning to look as shaky as a cow with advanced BSE. In Stockholm, he was overheard confiding to Commission president, Romano Prodi, that he had ten days to decide whether to go ahead. Back home, Blair made yet another stage-managed visit to the countryside, taking care, as always, only to meet farmers selected by the NFU. Thus informed, he decided to take charge, to be rewarded with a tally of 587 outbreaks.

 

Needless to say, the rumour mill had been running in overdrive - as it always does in crisis situations. All sorts of theories were being advanced as to the cause of the epidemic. These ranged from the intervention of Saddam Hussein to animal rights terrorists deliberately releasing a virus stolen from the government' s biological warfare laboratory at Porton Down. One commentator even blamed the Mir space laboratory.

 

Dismissed as ' urban myths' , there were nevertheless persistent reports that the government had had prior knowledge of the epidemic - and had even warned other countries. A party of Brits, camping in New Zealand in December, claimed to have been raided by police who wanted to disinfect their belongings because of foot and mouth in the UK. Irish farmers had been warned to improve their ' biosecurity' and, on 18 January, the EU Commission had voted to spend #270,000 on testing the potency of emergency vaccine stocks.

 

There were confirmed reports of the Ministry having contacted timber merchants, weeks before the first reported outbreak, to check the availability of railway sleepers to fuel funeral pyres. One merchant claimed to have last heard from the Ministry in 1967. Then there was an intriguing report that the MAFF had ordered ' infected area' road signs from an Irish manufacture, six weeks before the outbreak, while a MAFF official was overheard on a train predicting ' uproar' when it was discovered that ' Tony' had known about foot and mouth being in the country ' for months' . The satirical magazine Private Eye put the date more precisely - 4 December.

 

Then a French stock dealer operating out of the UK, Mr Hugues Inizan, claimed he had sent sheep to France on 31 January, which were tested some weeks later in France and reported to be infected with foot and mouth disease. Although the sheep had been later slaughtered, rather conveniently for MAFF, French sources dismissed the results as ' false positives' .

 

Despite lofty denials from government, the ' no smoke without fire' brigade was reinforced in its belief of an earlier outbreak by the sheer scale of the epidemic which even the government' s chief scientist was claiming to be ' out of control' . Nick Brown reacted by extending the killing zones to 2 miles around each farm, while Tony Blair mobilised the Military Police to help co-ordinate the slaughter and the Catering Corps to kill more animals faster. By then, funeral pyres had become politically unacceptable and the Environment Agency had thrown the EU rules out the window. A fleet of bulldozers moved in to dig massive pits in a disused airfield in Great Orton, Cumbria, capable of burying 500,000 carcases, the first of many sites, one of which was to include Tow Law in Northumberland, later to be dubbed the ' animal Auschwitz' .

 

Serious alarm was building up in the farming community. The disease had broken out into the Cumbria Fells, and the National Park was facing an ' absolute Doomsday scenario' with the threatened extinction of the unique breed of Herdwick sheep. The body count now exceeded the record set in 1967. Millions more animals were at risk, with estimates of 30 million having to be killed. Farmers and others were seriously questioning the validity of the ' contain and destroy' policy, and the prospect of mass vaccination was being seriously discussed.

 

In fact, it was being more than discussed. The Soil Association' s Patrick Holden was calling for it and millionaire publisher and pioneering organic farmer, Peter Kindersley, was planning to take the government to court to challenge its killing frenzy and force through a vaccination policy. Meanwhile, the MAFF spin machine had been working overtime, blaming the spread of foot and mouth on illegal sheep movements. The source was a ' dirty' pig farmer who had failed to boil swill from a Chinese restaurant which, in turn, had imported meat illegally from the Far East. After demonstrations by Chinese communities in Newcastle, Manchester and London, the latter claim was withdrawn and Blair had to grovel to Chinese community leaders in order to make peace. Nevertheless, Nick Brown still went to the Commons to announce that pig swill would be banned, even though his own vets had reported seeing old lesions in sheep which predated the cases at Heddon-on-the-Wall, demonstrating that the epidemic cannot have started at that pig farm.

 

Separately, his ministry went into ' anti-vaccine' mode, dredging up every reason it could find as to why vaccination would not work. Here, it showed its true colours, naked in tooth and claw. Vaccinated animals became ' infective' ; the vaccine took too long to begin working and did not work very well anyway; and - the ' killer' fact - EU rules required all vaccinated animals to be slaughtered. On 27 March, with over 100,000 rotting carcasses still lying in the fields and 634 outbreaks declared, Ben Gill, president of the NFU, took a hand. He went on television denouncing vaccination saying that ' his members' wanted the killing speeded up. Vaccinated animals were the ' walking dead' .

 

But the tide seemed to be turning. Blair was already seriously considering the vaccination option, two Conservative MPs were openly advocating it and Paul Tyler for the Liberal Democrats was calling for a change in policy. Professor Fred Brown, a British scientist now working for the US Plum Island Animal Disease Centre, was scathing. A world renowned scientist and leading expert on foot and mouth, his view was that it was ' crazy' not to vaccinate. He suggested that Scudamore should look for another job - like gardening. His wrath was also directed at the MAFF for turning down a new American diagnostic field test which could detect foot and mouth in forty minutes, cutting days from the process of disposing of infected animals.

 

Sense was not to prevail. As outbreaks climbed through the 1000-mark, the NFU continued its extraordinary campaign against vaccination. Privately, it was believed, Blair actually supported vaccination but - contrary to his publicly professed claim of being able to make ' hard choices' - was torn by indecision. Instead of vaccination, we got vacillation, immortalised by Private Eye as Blair' s ' Emergency vacillation policy' .

 

Along the way, Blair had postponed his election - officially the local elections - to 7 June. With the economic situation deteriorating, dogged by trouble in the NHS, mutinous GPs and teachers and a breakdown in law and order, Blair knew that any further delay could prejudice NuLab' s Holy Grail, re-election for a second term. The word went out - cases must decline. And decline they did. By the end of April, with the help of MAFF massaging the figures so outrageously that even the BBC' s Today programme began to notice, outbreak numbers miraculously began to drop. The downturn, real only to those in air-conditioned offices in Canary Wharf and Millbank, gave Nick Brown his opportunity. Viscerally opposed to vaccination, and in the thrall of Ben Gill, he ' bounced' his leader, announcing to incredulous MPs attending the Commons Agriculture Committee on 23 April that, because the number of outbreaks was reducing, vaccination was no longer necessary.

 

If anything had been learned by MAFF from the BSE Inquiry, which had reported a mere six months previously, it was ' don' t put your chief vet on the stage' , after the disastrous performance of Keith Meldrum during the BSE crisis. Sure enough, the present incumbent, Jim Scudamore, had been ' disappeared' . His place was taken by a ' media friendly' front-man. This was professional chemist and government chief scientific adviser, Prof. David King - expert in substituting charm for a complete lack of relevant qualifications and experience. With scarcely a blush, he presented MPs with a series of graphs, based on computer projections of dubious provenance prepared by chair-bound statisticians from Imperial College, London. By complete coincidence, one of the graphs showed the epidemic skidding to a halt on exactly 7 June.

 

That still left the cattle which, in the main, had been housed over winter and thus protected from the legions of infected sheep. Now due to be turned out, they were poised to add new fuel to the epidemic, cohorts of fresh victims ready for the burning. Although, as early as 30 March, the British government had successfully applied for and had been granted permission by the EU Commission to vaccinate the cattle in Cumbria and Devon, for the very purpose of protecting them from the sheep, Brown had now ruled out this strategy.

 

Thus deprived of the only sensible control option, the Einsatzgruppen launched with gusto into a new wave of killing, extending the indiscriminate ' cull' to eliminate every sheep in Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria, Northumbria, the Forest of Dean and Devon. With the aid of a Charollais-cross calf renamed Phoenix, which somewhat implausibly survived five days in a heap of dead cattle, the intensified killing was heavily disguised as a ' relaxation' of the cull. The cattle were to be spared - only the sheep were to die.

 

And die they did. With 2,000 troops mobilised, the body-count shot past the two million mark and continued rising. As it did, tales of utter barbarity began to filter out. This is part of a letter attributed to a soldier serving with the Green Howards in the Worcester area.

 

we were briefed that we' d be ' clearing up' - burning and/or burying carcasses of animals humanely destroyed by trained vets and slaughtermen. But that' s all turned out to be more spin and propaganda. What we' re actually doing is ' mopping up' - killing animals they' ve left behind or can' t be bothered to finish off.

 

My regiment has got all sorts of battle honours for fighting Britain' s enemies all over the world, but we' re now engaged in heroic hand-to-hand combat with lambs. Their mothers have been shot but some were so frightened by the noise that they' d escaped all over the place.

 

As we don' t have any humane killers, the cleanest way of killing them is just to throw them in the river. We might be trained to kill enemy soldiers, but slitting the throat of a spring lamb, or beating its brains out with a blunt instrument, is just too much for some of the lads, so they' d rather drown them, even if it' s not really as quick.

 

One of my mates was detailed to stand by a pig which was giving birth. As each piglet was born and crawled away he had to smash it with the back of a shovel. Once they' d all been born the pig was shot with all the others. Worst of all are the cows that have been shot but not finished off by the slaughtermen. Some are still crawling around, others are clearly still alive but unable to move. We have to beat them to death with lorry spanners or other heavy lumps of iron. If people really knew that was going on I think there' d be a revolution.

But the people did not know what was going on. There was no revolution. And so utterly brutalised had the state officials become that they even found time to take out a pet goat, Misty, slaughtered while the owner' s mother was distracted by police in her own home.

 

Amongst the hundreds of thousands to follow were six Dutch Zwartbles sheep owned by Dumfriesshire widow Carolyne Hoffe who had barricaded them in her home in Glasserton, near Whithorn, to protect them from the death squads. Despite a spirited High Court appeal, brute force prevailed. A vet, backed by police and the Ghurkas, broke into Carolyne' s home to execute the government' s murderous policy.

 

Never mind: Blair had got his way. On 8 May, against a backdrop of children in a south London school, he announced his general election. To no-one' s surprise, it was to be on 7 June. With ' a hymn and a touch of humility' ,<2> he then pleaded for the voter' s ' hearts and minds' in what was later described as a ' toe-curlingly embarrassing' presentation<3>. By then, over 1600 outbreaks had been declared and the corpses of millions of animals were rotting in the ground, their stench pervading the countryside. But the ' phoney war' was over. The political race was on.

 

By general consensus, amongst what is still described as the ' Fleet Street' hacks, foot and mouth was over. They were bored with burning carcases and snivelling farmers and wanted to get on with the ' real life' issues, such as the general election. But, of course, it was not over. Despite the most determined attempts of the Blair government to massage the statistics and dampen down publicity, the disease grumbled on.

 

Not least of the events that followed was the determined stand by Juanita Wilson, owner of the Mossburn Animal Sanctuary in Hightae, near Lockerbie. She had been told by the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department (SERAD) - the local equivalent of MAFF - that her 14 goats and three sheep must die. Yet it had been seven weeks since the neighbouring farm had been ' killed-out' for foot and mouth, well beyond the incubation period of FMD, yet no sign of the disease had appeared on the sanctuary. Nor did SERAD want to kill the cattle and pigs - magically, these could not spread the disease. Only the goats and sheep had to die, although Henry the goose, was also due to be put down. This bird had spent so much time with the sheep that it thought it was a sheep. Juanita could not bear for it to be left on its own. She blockaded her sanctuary to prevent the death squads doing their dirty work.

 

Fighting to save her animals, she took her case to the High Court in Edinburgh, only to have it rejected. It looked all over by 11 May when the butchers arrived, accompanied in force by 50 policemen at five to six in the morning - despite having agreed to allow Juanita' s vet to kill them at ten. Fresh from their triumph of intimidating Carolyne Hoffe, and taking a break from persecuting motorists, these heroic guardians of the peace were there to see justice done. And to make sure that force prevailed, they closed they main road past the sanctuary and re-routed traffic through the tiny village of Hightae and its primary school, all ' in the interests of road safety' - but actually to prevent reinforcements and journalists reaching the sanctuary.

 

That weekend, the Sunday Times <4> was dominated by the headline ' We can' t stop crime, say police' . The Police Federation was to stage its annual conference and was complaining that forces were so short of officers that they could do little more than respond to crimes after the event. ' In essence, we arrive when the wheels fall off' , chairman Fred Broughton said.

 

But the wheels had not fallen off at Mossburn. Overnight, Juanita had sacked her legal team, appointed another and lodged yet another appeal. The judge gave her a stay of execution until the Tuesday. Come the day, Rural Affairs Minister, Ross Finnie, had announced that the automatic ' cull' would be discontinued and each farm could be assessed on a ' case-by-case' basis. It was agreed that the Mossburn animals should be blood tested and the court case was adjourned. For once, there was to be no slaughter.

 

Despite this last minute reprieve, even by the obscene logic of the day there seemed something very odd going on in the area. Finnie seemed obsessed with wiping out every sheep and every goat in southern Scotland, including the rare breeds which had been exempted in England.

 

The explanation seemed to be a deal between the Scottish Executive and the European Commission, whereby Scotland, as a region of the EU, could apply for ' disease-free' export status ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom, on condition that all sheep and goats along the English border had been eliminated. Yet, if that was the intent, there was no power for the Executive to slaughter merely for this reason. The Animal Health Act 1981 permitted slaughter only for disease control purposes so the action appeared to be illegal.

 

Apart from tiny animal sanctuaries such as Mossburn, however, the only protests seemed to be coming from owners of the rare Cheviots sheep on the 65 holdings comprising the Duke of Buccleuch' s estates in Dumfriesshire. The Earl of Dalkeith, writing to the Daily Telegraph, <5> reported that, after 50,000 of his tenants' cattle and sheep had already been slaughtered, the consensus amongst farmers was breaking down. The Scottish Executive was using ' tactics that come close to moral blackmail and menace' , creating a climate of fear and doubt. He was saddened that the prosecution of a policy that so many had initially supported had become so ' robotic' .

 

One reason for the lack of more general opposition was that many lowland farmers were happy to accept the scorched earth policy in exchange for generous compensation - sometimes above the normal market value of their animals - and the prospect of ploughing up pastures to receive additional subsidies for growing barley (thus putting more pressure on the arable sector as the subsidies are drawn from a fixed pool). Those who regarded their animals as more than items on a balance sheet were at odds with the broader farming community. Thus, not only was the government response to foot and mouth destroying animals and farms, it was setting farmer against farmer, neighbour against neighbour, destroying communities as well.

 

Nevertheless, the spin machine was still working overtime and, on Thursday 17 May - almost three months to the day since the epidemic had started - the magic day arrived. There were no new cases of foot and mouth. The following day, however, a resident in one of the new ' kill zones' circulated the following e-mail.

 

We were told on the propaganda-news yesterday that there had been no cases of foot and mouth in 24 hours. However I have heard of three new cases in the area around Settle, where I have a house. The atmosphere in this part of Yorkshire resembles an armed camp at the moment.

 

In what Christopher Booker called in his Sunday column that week, ' the greatest conjuring trick of this election campaign' , the government was concealing the fact that it was killing more animals than at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis. In the ten days preceding the ' zero cases' report, the MAFF and its army death-squads had killed more than a quarter of a million animals, on more than 1000 farms. Between 4 and 12 May alone, the ministry had ' killed out' 889 farms, an average of 125 a day. The daily average of animals slaughtered in that week had been 32,000, nearly three times the figure for the previous week. And the total number of animals killed, including those under the so-called ' welfare scheme' , was set to top six million, or one in 10 of all Britain' s livestock.

 

To conceal the scale of the killing, the big, prepared disposal sites had been abandoned and a new law had been passed, the Waste (Foot and Mouth Disease)(England) Regulations 2001, which forced tip operators under threat of criminal prosecution to bury dead animals in ordinary landfill sites, driving a cart and horse through environmental law. The new strategy was to ' blitz' an area with special ' task forces' of vets and soldiers to kill everything in sight. The carcases were transported overnight to keep them out of public sight. ' Rural cleansing' was under way.

 

Such was the success of the Millbank machine that foot and mouth disease was well on its way to becoming a ' secret epidemic' . But secret, the complaints were not. Two of the ministry' s most senior scientists on foot and mouth published a ' damning indictment' of the contiguous cull in the Veterinary Record, arguing that much of the killing had been unnecessary. Commenting on the article, Anthony Gibson, the NFU' s South West director damned the ' cull' as ' one of the most bloody, tragic and disgraceful misjudgements ever committed in the name of science' .

 

But the secret was too big to be completely suppressed. Even by 19 May, the MAFF was being forced to declare four more ' new' outbreaks, bringing the total to 1,611. But the worrying development was the outbreaks in North Yorkshire. Days later, another Einsatzgruppen comprising more than MAFF 200 officials had been drafted into the Settle, an army of occupation. The ministry was admitting 17 ' cases' (although farmers counted 41) and around 69,000 animals had been or were in the process of being slaughtered. By 24 May, Scottish farmers were also on alert after a second outbreak in two days had been confirmed in Eastriggs, near Annan, the first in Dumfries and Galloway for 10 days. Ministry vets were trying to hold the line, carefully describing the incidents as ' sparks round the edge of infected farms' .

 

That day, Nick Brown was preparing to rush off to Settle to talk with the usual carefully selected bunch of farmers. But not everything went as planned. When he arrived, he was heckled by a small crowd. ' Where were you when we needed you?' shouted one man. The ' cluster' of outbreaks had by then been reported at 18 and rising. A MAFF spokesman described the situation as ' very worrying' . Indeed. The picturesque Yorkshire Dales were the heart of Herriot country and Settle had become a ghost town. Even Blair had to take time off from his presidential campaign to urge people ' not to relax in the battle to stop the virus spreading' . And there were rumblings of discontent, even from the NFU. Tim Palmer, the Skipton group secretary, complained ' Our members feel that they have been ignored and that this is not just a blip at the end of the foot-and-mouth crisis. This is a major extension to the epidemic' .

 

But, if there was a ' blip' it was in the publicity. Swamped by the general election news, foot and mouth disease struggled to compete - and lost. Nick Brown huffed and puffed about accusations that his ministry had massaged the figures to give his Party a clear run at the election, ' refuting' everything - even when an analysis in The Daily Telegraph indicated that the total outbreaks were double those declared by the government, at over 3,000. And no sooner had Blair announced that we were ' on the home straight' than outbreaks were reported in Clitheroe, Lancs, and Knutsford in Cheshire. Undeterred, he dismissed these as ' sporadic outbursts' , ' precisely what the experts had expected' .

 

Day 100 of the epidemic came and went. MAFF blamed the farmers for spreading the disease and fronted David King the chemist to explain that, had the government not killed so many animals, a lot of animals would have had to have been killed. As far as the course of the epidemic had gone, the government had not moved its position one iota. As faithfully recorded by the loyally uncritical BBC, the epidemic had started at Heddon-on-the-Wall, the MAFF had behaved wonderfully, etc., etc.

 

The only snag was that the epidemic was now on its way to becoming the largest ever in the world and even King the chemist was admitting that it was not going to end until August. The prediction of 7 June was but a distant memory. Another 300 tipper lorries were hired, ready to move into Exmoor after the election, while hit teams stood by in Lincolnshire, Swaledale, South Cumbria and the Brecon Beacons. Oh, and Northumberland County trading standards officers announced they were to prosecute Bobby Waugh and his brother Ronnie for starting the epidemic. MAFF had its scapegoat.

 

By election day, the disease had spread back into Whitby and the Peak District, and was rampant in cattle in Devon. Meanwhile, MAFF was planning an extensive blood-testing exercise in undisclosed areas, to root out hitherto undetected infection. Positive animals were to be slaughtered. With rumours of a new ' blitz' after the election, the media pricked up its ears. But Scudamore denied there was to be any intensification of the 'cull' and the media went back to sleep.

 

The propaganda war had well and truly been won. In the early hours of 8 June, it was clear that President Blair had romped home to victory. But six million animals had been slaughtered to get him there, and millions more were to die.

 

 

1 Ransom S (2001) Plague, pestilence and the pursuit of power - the politics of global disease. Credence Publications. Tonbridge, Kent.

2 Guardian, 9 May 2001.

3 Matthew Parris, The Times, 9 May 2001.

4 13 May 2001.

5 Letters to the Editor. 12 May 2001.