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This transcript has been typed at speed, and therefore may contain mistakes. Newsnight accepts no responsibility for these. However, we will be happy to correct serious errors.

Lord Phillips' official BSE report

LORD PHILLIPS:
We didn't hold back on blaming anybody. We tried to be fair.

VINE:
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?

LORD PHILLIPS:
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.

VINE:
Yes, but you say he had an assumption, which assumes that the belief that the connection was not there was somehow...

LORD PHILLIPS:
He'd already received a report which suggested that there was not necessarily any connection.

VINE:
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.

LORD PHILLIPS:
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.

VINE:
Professor Richard Lacey, 1990, predicted hospitals filled with thousands of people going painfully mad before dying.

LORD PHILLIPS:
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.

VINE:
So were ministers wrong to seem so sure - people like Mr Gummer - when they told us beef was safe?

LORD PHILLIPS:
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 to humans.

VINE:
Did he fail in his responsibilities when he made that statement?

LORD PHILLIPS:
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.

VINE:
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?

LORD PHILLIPS:
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.

VINE:
Should anyone be punished for what happened?

LORD PHILLIPS:
I don't believe people should be punished, no.

VINE:
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".

LORD PHILLIPS:
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.

VINE:
Thank you.

JEREMY VINE:
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 contained?

DAVID CHURCHILL:
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.

VINE:
Would you have been worried if it singled out individuals more forcibly?

DAVID CHURCHILL:
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 being revealed.

VINE:
The compensation package from what you know of it, is welcome to the families who have suffered so much?

DAVID CHURCHILL:
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 welcome.

VINE:
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?

TIM BENNETT:
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.

VINE:
People were shocked when they discovered that that was cows were fed on.

TIM BENNETT:
Of course. That has been a practice which has taken place for many years, not necessarily a symptom of intensive agriculture.

VINE:
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 that.

IAIN MCGILL:
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.

VINE:
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.

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