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BSE Monday, 19 October, 1998, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Former chief vet holds back BSE tape
Keith Meldrum: Denies cover-up
The inquiry into the BSE crisis has been denied access to an interview with the government's former head vet, in which he discusses how past ministers handled the problem.

The refusal by ex-Chief Veterinary Officer, Keith Meldrum, to release the tape is the first time a request for documentation by the inquiry has been turned down.

The revelation came at the end of a day in which Mr Meldrum had denied taking part in any cover-up over BSE.

Strict confidentiality

He said that the interview - conducted in 1993 by researchers from the University of Surrey, Department of Psychology, investigating the communication of risk to the public - had been carried out on the condition of strict confidentiality.

Mr Meldrum said: "I have listened to the tape and comments on that tape are of a very personal nature, about my family, about myself, about my colleagues and so forth.

John Gummer: Confidential comments
"I have no wish to see comments about previous ministers, about how I viewed Mr Gummer and his ability, for instance, to put over a message to the public - I think it was extremely good - coming out."

The inquiry does not have the power to demand production of the tape, which is presently held by the Ministry of Agriculture's Food Safety Directorate, which commissioned the research.

However, Downing Street has ordered all government departments to co-operate fully with the inquiry.

Mr Meldrum has promised to reconsider his decision, not to release the tape, before he resumes giving evidence on Tuesday

It is thought likely that negotiations will take place to expurgate details which he regards as personal.

It has also emerged that the inquiry secretariat was unaware of the existence of a report into the BSE scandal drawn up in 1996 by MAFF official David North until a report in the Daily Express on Monday revealed its existence.

Inquiry officials have contacted MAFF to asked why they were not informed about the document.

Accusations denied

In his evidence Mr Meldrum denied that communication breakdowns within the government had magnified the scale of the BSE epidemic.

Sir Keith Calman: Accused Mr Meldrum
He had earlier been criticised by the former Chief Medical Officer Sir Kenneth Calman for failing to inform him of vital developments in the BSE issue. But Mr Meldrum told the inquiry that he had always been open both with the public and the Department of Health.

Other critics have accused MAFF, which employed Mr Meldrum, of playing down the dangers of BSE to human health in order to avoid damage to the British beef industry.

But Mr Meldrum - now working as a part-time consultant to the Meat and Livestock Commission - told the inquiry: "Those who would suggest that we tended to adopt policies that would favour the agricultural industry and to some extent therefore endanger the consumer would be totally wrong."

He insisted that it was the job of the Chief Medical Officer, not the Chief Veterinary Officer, to inform the public about dangers to human health.

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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports from the BSE enquiry
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09 Oct 98 | BSE
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