The animal health laboratories behind last summer’s foot-and-mouth outbreak will not face prosecution, Surrey County Council has said.

A lack of evidence prevented the prosecution of either the Institute of Animal Health or private company Merial for the outbreak of the disease at Pirbright, the council said.

It had been considering a prosecution on the grounds that the laboratories had breached their licence conditions by allowing the virus to escape.

An official report concluded the virus escaped from the facilities through a faulty drainage pipe at Pirbright. It went on to infect eight farms and cost the industry millions of pounds.

Proof needed

However the council said it could not prove which laboratory was responsible for the outbreak because they shared the drainage system and therefore could not bring prosecution against either body because of a lack of evidence.

In a statement the county council called for tougher measures to ensure that when two laboratories shared facilities, one should have ultimate site responsibility.

Officials said they also wanted to see individual directors held accountable and maximum fines increased from £5,000 or up to six months’ imprisonment to reflect the seriousness of the situation.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government had accepted and was implementing the recommendations of a review into the regulatory framework for handling animal diseases.

It said inspections continued to take place at Pirbright to make sure the IAH and Merial had put in place the measures needed to prevent another outbreak.