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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 12:59 GMT
Disease inquiry 'blunted by absences'
Pyre
Northumberland was badly affected by the outbreak
An inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak in one of the country's worst affected areas has been"blunted" by the absence of officials from the army and government, its chairman said on Monday.

Northumberland County Council is hosting a five-day investigation into the spread of the virus and how rural communities were affected.

The area is still considered `at risk' and had one of the first confirmed cases at Heddon-on-the-Wall in February last year.

The inquiry is being led by Professor Michael Dower, a former director general of the Countryside Commission and a lecturer in European rural development at the University of Gloucestershire.


The panel very much regrets that neither Defra nor the army will be present to take part in these discussions

Professor Michael Dower

Professor Dower told the hearing that the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the army had declined invitations to send representatives.

Both organisations said they would reply to questions in writing.

Professor Dower said: "The panel very much regrets that neither the department nor the army will be present to take part in these discussions.

"They played a major part in the handling of the outbreak and their absence will blunt our ability to make a fair judgment about some issues.

Guideline constraints

"It doesn't invalidate the inquiry and we propose to do the best we can in their absence."

Professor Dower said rural affairs minister Lord Whitty had replied to his invitation for Defra to attend the inquiry, saying staff should not be diverted from their "prime task" of eradicating the disease from the county.

The chairman said Brigadier Andrew Farquhar informed him that the army was "constrained by guidelines" when military personnel gave evidence to inquiries.

A total of 234,117 animals have been culled in the county since the outbreak began last year.

A total of 130 organisations and individuals will give evidence to the inquiry this week, which will report its findings next month.

The chairman reminded the panel that certain matters regarding the Northumberland outbreak were subject to court proceedings.

Pig breeder Bobby Waugh, who worked from the Burnside Farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall which was the first infected premise in the county, is being prosecuted by Northumberland Trading Standards in relation to alleged breaches of animal welfare regulations.

He is due to appear before Tynedale Magistrates in Hexham in May, charged with failing to dispose of animal carcasses, failure to report foot-and-mouth disease and cruelty to animals.



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11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
28 Dec 01 | Review of 2001
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