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Lord Phillips' official BSE report
We didn't hold back on blaming
anybody. We tried to be fair.
If I take the case of John Gummer, you
talk about the incident in 1990
where a cat was discovered to have
a spongiform encephalopathy. You
say there was a conversation
between the official vet and Mr
Gummer, confirming the minister's
assumption that there was no likely
connection between it and BSE. To
what extent was Mr Gummer failing
in his responsibilities by carrying
that assumption around?
I don't think he was failing in his
responsibilities. That's what he
was told. At that stage, it was
jumping to conclusions to conclude
that the cat was connected to BSE.
Nobody knew whether in the past
cats had occasionally succumbed to
a disease such as this.
Yes, but you say he had an assumption,
which assumes that the belief that the
connection was not there was
He'd already received a report
which suggested that there
was not necessarily any connection.
But the danger didn't occur to him
and his colleagues, but you point
out that only a few of days later,
the Sun newspaper published an
article saying BSE could be as
deadly as the Black Death. So it
was occurring to everybody else.
I'm not sure it is right to equate
the Sun with everybody else. There
were a lot of scientists who were
giving thought to the cat.
Professor Richard Lacey, 1990,
predicted hospitals filled with
thousands of people going painfully
mad before dying.
It was referred to the Spongiform
Encephalopathy Advisory Committee,
which was the government advisory
committee of scientists. Their reaction
was it was too soon to draw conclusions
about the cat.
So were ministers wrong to seem so
sure - people like Mr Gummer - when
they told us beef was safe?
The message "beef is safe" is one which
gave the public a false impression.
When Mr Gummer said beef is safe,
he explained he was saying this
BECAUSE precautions were in place
against what was considered a remote
possibility that BSE would be transmittable
Did he fail in his responsibilities when
he made that statement?
No, on the contrary! We haven't
criticised him for making that
statement. It was a perfectly
reasonable statement for him to
make, knowing what he knew. It was
made on the basis that precautions
were in place, but others made the
same statement without explaining
that beef is safe BECAUSE, should
BSE be transmissible, the dangerous
bits are being removed.
Surely it would have been sensible for
him NOT to have said beef was safe,
given the fact that he couldn't be
sure. And so many other people were
making it publicly clear that they were
not sure, in fact they were very worried?
Again, there was worry on the part
of the public. Ministers believed
that the public was overreacting.
It was being alarmist, and that
they needed to be reassured.
Statements made about the safety of
beef were made bona fide and on
reasonable grounds at the time.
It's not the beef which is really
the danger with this disease, it's
the bits of the central nervous
system that carry the agent.
Should anyone be punished for what
I don't believe people should be
At the top of your list of lessons, you
say - talking about risk - you say in
future where there is uncertainty,
all reasonably practical
precautions should be taken. But
there is a huge problem with making
that a reality, isn't there,
because of the way different people
will see the word "reasonable".
That is right. I don't think you
can avoid that. It involves an
exercise in proportionality. It
involves the exercise of judgment.
To exercise that judgment you need
the best scientific advice on the
scientific aspects. At the end of
the day, it involves balance.
We are speaking to some members of
our panel in the studio. David
Churchill, you are the father of
Stephen - the first person to die
of nvCJD. Were you happy to see the
report today and with what it
Father of Stephen Churchill
Yes, I think satisfied is a better
description. I think we have a
fair, detailed and thorough
report which mirrors the fair,
detailed and thorough inquiry that
Lord Philips has carried out over
the last two and a half years.
Would you have been worried if it
singled out individuals more forcibly?
I think we really need to read deeply
into the report. I think all of us have
only had the opportunity to read
the summary today. It is 14 volumes
long. We need to dig deeper into
the report. While there might be a
relatively short list of criticisms, I think
when we dig deeper, we will find
that there are a lot more issues
The compensation package from
what you know of it, is welcome
to the families who have suffered
Yes, both of the offers we had made
today are very welcome. The provision
of a care package to ensure that there is
consistent quality and timely care for
every victim across the country, rather
than the postcode lottery we have
suffered up to now, is particularly
welcome. But, in addition to that,
not surprisingly, certainly from many,
many families, compensation will be
Tim Bennett, to what extent do you
think the farmers were responsible
for some of this disaster? One of
the points in the report made
clear that there is a watershed
moment when a ruminant feed ban is
brought in and a five-week period
of grace given. As a result,
farmers use up as much ruminant
feed as they can. Do you think the
farming community needs to take
this report on board and think very
carefully about its own part?
National Farmers' Union
We have taken the report on board
and taken action. Certainly, in
terms of the feed ban and banning
animal protein, it has proved to be
the right decision. Obviously, that
was a very good decision at the
time. Animal protein has been
banned in this country, full stop,
on farms since 1996 and has proved
to be the right decision. In the
rest of the world, for about 150
years, it has been a feed that is
still used and has always been used.
People were shocked when they
discovered that that was cows were
Of course. That has been a
practice which has taken place for
many years, not necessarily a
symptom of intensive agriculture.
Iain McGill, we mentioned the case of
the cat in 1990, which proved to be
a crucial marker in all of this.
Tell us about your involvement in
Director, Prion Interest Group
Central Veterinary Laboratory 1990-91
I'm glad you bring up the cat
and you put Lord Phillips on the
spot about it. That was the alarm
bell that rang in many scientists'
and my mind. My own experience,
almost a year after the discovery
of the cats of Bristol, the scientists at
Bristol University referred sections
to myself for comment. A year
later, we were publishing a
paper and we were censored by the
Ministry of Agriculture. I have the
documents with me. I think freedom
of information is crucial. The
report does admit censorship of
scientists. That is key - crucial.
Tim Holt, you pointed out the
possible connection between BSE and
a possible human infection as early
as 1988. As we heard from Pallab Ghosh
in his the report, the Ministry of
Agriculture was still working out
whether to talk to the Department
of Health about it at that stage.
DR TIM HOLT:
GP, North Yorkshire
Yes, I think there are a lot of issues
about communication in all of this.
Despite the fact that the report is
being described as condemning,
I think the ministry and the
departments in the Government
got off very lightly. Having been
through it myself, in a very close
way at the end of the 1980s, I
remember how frustrating it
was that so little was being
done to protect either animals or
humans. There were such
unacceptable delays between
decisions to take action and the
actual implementation of that action.
In retrospect we found out that
the action was not taken effectively.
Referring to the SBO ban, where in fact
mechanically recovered meat wasn't
included, so we continued to eat offal
from cattle until 1995. It was disgraceful.