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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 12:47 GMT
E.coli inquiry's 'horrific' news
Hywel Griffith
Health correspondent

The raw meat area at John Tudor and Son, the Bridgend butchers
The raw meat area at the butchers at the centre of the inquiry
The last six weeks of the inquiry into the E.coli outbreak in south Wales in 2005 has produced some very detailed and, at times, fairly gruesome evidence.

For the families involved in the outbreak, it was at times distressing to relive the events of 2005, when more than 150 people were made ill by meat served in schools.

The picture which has emerged is one of a butcher with total disregard for the safety of his customers, most of them schools feeding their pupils.

What has also become clear is that the checks in place to try and stop a firm like John Tudor and Son in Bridgend from operating completely failed.

Sharon Mills
To know this outbreak was so avoidable has made it even harder to ever come to terms with Mason's death
Sharon Mills

According to Sharon Mills, the mother of five-year-old Mason Jones who died in the outbreak, there is evidence of systematic failure.

"To know this outbreak was so avoidable has made it even harder to ever come to terms with Mason's death," said Ms. Mills.

"Why weren't complaints acted upon? Why was Tudor given the contract?"

"The procurement process failed drastically and we have serious concerns about the inspection regime. Its obvious that neither process was good enough."

During the inquiry, Sharon Mills gave evidence about her son's final days, and how at one stage he started hallucinating as his lips turned blue.

Mason's family also listened to evidence from doctors who explained the reasons why he was initially sent home by the GP out of hours service.

"Myself and my family," explains Sharon Mills, "have sat through the full six weeks of the oral hearings of the public inquiry and the evidence we have heard has been quite horrific."

Prof Hugh Pennington
Professor Pennington will issue his report later in the year

Seeing some of the evidence has also been harrowing for families like the Riddifords from Cwmdare.

Liam Riddiford, now 12, was one of the first children to become ill with E.coli poisoning from meat he ate at school.

"Its like having thousands of needles at one going into you," explains Liam.

"People were saying to me did you really think you were going to die - and I think, yes, I did."

For his mother Sonia, seeing images from inside the Tudor meat factory in Bridgend was the most disturbing part of the evidence.

"To see how your children's food is prepared, to think he was eating food from those premises it's a horror story."

Enforcing the law

The Riddifords, like many other families, will now be waiting to hear the findings of the Inquiry, chaired by Professor Hugh Pennington.

The first indication will come from closing statements to be made on 14 May, followed by a full written report later this year.

One of the most important issues is whether environmental health officers and meat hygiene inspectors are enforcing the law sufficiently to protect public health.

Questions have also been raised over how well the NHS can cope with an outbreak of E.coli, which spreads rapidly and endangers the lives of young and old.

Having chaired an inquiry into Scotland's 1996 E.coli outbreak, Professor Pennington has said he feels embarrassed recommendations made then were not enough to stop a further outbreak.

His report will contain criticisms of those who have failed in their duty, and recommend changes which will try and ensure this type of outbreak cannot happen again.

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