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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 20:56 GMT
'Shambolic' control of foot-and-mouth
Pyre
Northumberland was badly hit by the farm virus
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has come in for more strong criticism on the second day of the foot-and-mouth public inquiry at Northumberland County Council in Morpeth.

The five-day investigation has been looking at how the virus spread, how information was passed on and what happened to animals afterwards, regarding slaughter, disposal and assorted restrictions.

Witnesses on Tuesday told how officials were "overwhelmed" by the crisis and, for a time, the organisation of the control centre in Newcastle was a "complete and utter shambles."

Residents living near the Widdrington burial site and mass pyre said the way diseased animal carcasses were disposed caused them undue distress.

'Slow decisions'

John Grant, a farmer near Heddon-on-the-Wall, and one of the first to be affected by the outbreak, attacked Defra for being too indecisive.

"You don't expect them to know all the answers so you just let them get on with it.

"But it very soon became apparent that no-one was willing to make a decision, and even if a decision was made, it was passed higher up the chain and came back down again."

On Monday, the inquiry heard distressing accounts of how children were traumatized by the sights and sounds of foot-and-mouth.

Sheep carcasses
Lorry-loads of carcasses were burned
On Tuesday, those who lived near the burial site and mass pyre at Widdrington described their experiences.

One woman from Druridge described the sight of "lorry-loads of dead cattle", the "huge red flames", the "acrid smoke" and the "smells of rotting and burning flesh".

James Grant, representing the Widdrington community, said they were not consulted about the activities.

The inquiry also heard from the Environment Agency that the mass site was used because it was no longer practical to dispose of such large numbers of carcasses on farms.

It also cited today's greater awareness of water pollution as a reason for choosing Widdrington.

But it admitted some ash may have to be dug up and moved to land-fill sites because it could be from cattle over five years old, with a subsequent risk of BSE.

The inquiry has been told that, in any future outbreak, animal carcases should be incinerated rather than buried or burned on pyres.

Professor Michael Dower, the inquiry's chairman, on Monday criticised Defra and the army for not taking part.

See also:

15 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Questions remain over foot-and-mouth
11 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Campaigners demand disease inquiry
28 Dec 01 | Review of 2001
F&M: The rural nemesis
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