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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March, 2004, 19:45 GMT
Foot-and-mouth vet 'not to blame'
The 2001 foot and mouth outbreak cost the taxpayer 8bn
A government vet has been defended over claims he could have prevented the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

Junior environment minister Ben Bradshaw backed the actions of Jim Dring, who visited the farm later named as the source of the outbreak.

Mr Dring earlier said he should have performed a more rigorous inspection of the Northumberland farm.

A Tory MP said Mr Dring's statement was a "clear admission" of government negligence in the run-up to the crisis.

Mr Bradshaw said: "To suggest that Mr Dring was responsible for the foot-and-mouth outbreak, as some have sought to, is like saying that a police officer who misses a piece of evidence at the scene of a crime is responsible for that crime rather than the criminal himself."

'Illegal activity'

Mr Dring made the admission in official papers, which were not placed before the Anderson inquiry into the crisis, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has admitted.

On Tuesday, Mr Bradshaw announced he had published the full text of Mr Dring's testimony in the Commons, as well as on the Defra website.

He said: "Far from showing any incompetence on Mr Dring's or the, then, Agriculture Ministry's part, I believe it shows a dedicated and conscientious vet dealing with some very difficult customers who went out of their way to conceal dangerous and illegal activity on their farm."

His comments came during a Westminster debate, opened by Tory MP Boris Johnson, who called for former pig swill traders to be compensated after the ban on the trade in 2001.

Mr Johnson said Mr Dring's statement was a "clear admission" of government negligence in the run-up to the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The 62 formerly licensed pig swill feeders were victims of an "injustice".

'Rigorous inspection'

He said: "I believe it was illogical to penalise innocent swill feeders for the innocent behaviour of one."

Defra said it had been concerned that publication of Mr Dring's comments could have prejudiced farmer Bobby Waugh's trial.

Mr Waugh, 57, from Sunderland, was convicted in May 2002 of breaching a series of animal health regulations at his farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland.

Mr Dring, who is still employed by Defra in Newcastle, said he had not carried out a "rigorous inspection" at the Waugh's farm.

If he had, the outbreak, which cost the taxpayer 8bn, could have been avoided, he said in the document, leaked to Farmers Weekly.

Mr Bradshaw ruled out compensation for former pig feeders, but the government had gone to "considerable lengths" to provide them with advice and assistance, he said.



A farmer's negligence
30 May 02  |  England

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