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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 12:57 GMT
Government 'slow' to react
Pyre
Northumberland was badly hit by the farm virus
An independent report published into the handling of foot-and-mouth in Northumberland is highly critical of the government's handling of the outbreak.

Northumberland County Council - one of the counties worst affected - commissioned an inquiry into how the disease affected local communities.

The report, published on Tuesday, found the authorities were slow to respond initially.

It also found that too many animals were slaughtered during the following weeks and months as the virus spread across the county.


It was painful to share that anger and grief, to hear of that sense of loss that people suffered

Professor Michael Dower, report chairman

The panel chairman, countryside expert Professor Michael Dower, criticised the government for not sending officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (Defra) to the five-day-long hearing in January.

Professor Dower said: "Most of the critique is directed squarely at the government.

"I believe it was a public relations disaster for them and they did themselves, as well as Northumberland, a disservice by not appearing at the hearing."

The inquiry panel heard submissions from 140 individuals and organisations with 80 witnesses attending.

'Painful privilege'

Professor Dower added: "We were troubled by the critique of how the outbreak was handled and by the absence of Defra."

He said it was a "painful privilege" to lead the inquiry, as he felt the hearing, in Morpeth last month, had helped people recover from the trauma of the outbreak.

He said: "It was painful to share that anger and grief, to hear of that sense of loss that people suffered, and to hear this fairly comprehensive critique of the way the outbreak was handled."

The report said Northumberland was the county first into, and last out of, the national foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001.

Professor Michael Dower
Michael Dower chaired the inquiry

More than 230,000 animals, were culled and three-quarters of farms were placed under some form of restrictions.

The inquiry found the crisis was not effectively handled locally until an emergency control centre was set up in Newcastle five weeks after the first case was confirmed.

The panel found many people were not kept adequately informed - including those involved in handling the crisis.

The report also stated that the government's strict policy of culling on farms within three kilometres of infected premises led to "the slaughter of substantially more animals than were needed in order to contain and eradicate the disease".

Mass burial

Due to a lack of "common sense" implementation of policy by experts on the ground, "more farms were chosen for culling than was needed" and "a very high proportion of the stock killed were shown by post mortem blood tests to be clean of the disease".

Professor Dower, a former director general of the Countryside Commission and a lecturer in European rural development at the University of Gloucestershire, could not say how many animals were in the county were culled needlessly.

The report said more culled stock should have been buried on farms, as was recommended by the Duke of Northumberland's report into the 1967 outbreak, rather than buried at mass sites.

Northumberland County Council leader Michael Davey said he would refer the report when he met Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.

See also:

18 Jan 02 | England
Farmers unsure of new roles
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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