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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 20:41 GMT
Foot-and-mouth phial 'went missing'
Pyre
Northumberland was badly affected by the outbreak
Reports that a phial containing the foot-and-mouth virus went missing from the Porton Down research laboratories have been raised at a public inquiry into the disease.

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

Professor Michael Dower, leading the inquiry, said he was still waiting to hear from the government regarding the matter.

He wrote to rural affairs minister Lord Whitty on January 8 with a list of questions which had arisen from information the inquiry had received locally.

Professor Michael Dower
Professor Michael Dower is chairing the inquiry
Professor Dower asked: "What forewarning did the Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) have of a possible foot-and-mouth outbreak prior to the outbreak in February?

"Several of the written submissions the inquiry received refer to reports of a lost phial of foot-and-mouth virus from Porton Down," he said.

Professor Dower said there had been reports that the disease was present in the country before it was officially admitted.

There were also "reports that Maff officials were taking preparatory steps (eg making inquiries of timber merchants, taking part in simulation exercises, printing of `footpath closed' notices etc) before the outbreak of the disease was officially announced."

"Can you confirm or deny these reports or provide any further detail?"

Economy 'ravaged'

The chairman hoped to have a reply before the end of the week-long inquiry.

Farmers on Monday told the inquiry team how the disease had ravaged the local economy.

Iain Robson, a farmer and butcher from the Kirkwhelpington area, had farmed through two previous foot-and-mouth outbreaks in 1960-1 and 1967.

"The impact of this one has been far, far greater," he told the hearing.

Doug Watkin, a stockman and county councillor from the Norham area, saw his livestock culled in April.

Sheep being tested for foot-and-mouth in the Brecon Beacons
Three foot-and-mouth inquiries will take place
He said: "I lost a lifetime of work in a short time."

After he lost his animals, he said it was difficult to face other farmers.

Charles Scott, head of the Farm Business Survey Centre for Rural Economy, worked on producing a report for the regional development agency One NorthEast which has initially found that farmers whose animals were culled lost an average of 60,000 and received 80-120,000 compensation.

But Mr Scott said farmers who had had culls had lost an average of 15,000 due to increased costs and movement restrictions.



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