26 October 2001
Defra ‘delayed sheep news 10 hours’

By Alistair Driver

OFFICIALS knew the BSE-in-sheep brains experiment was wrecked 10 hours before revealing the news at night on a government website.

Chris Bostock, the scientist at the centre of the fiasco, said he was told the tests were botched at “around noon” on Wednesday (17 October).

But Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett decided to publish the news on her departmental website at about 10.30pm that night.

The cross-checks that rendered the four-year experiment useless were conducted by LGC, the UKs largest analytical laboratory.

A spokeswoman said the results were presented to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Wednesday afternoon.

But LGC first contacted the department in the morning, she added.

Mrs Beckett has said that only at around 6pm did she receive confirmation of cross-checks that revealed the tests were flawed.

But David Curry, chairman of the House of Commons agricultural select committee, has questioned the handling of the issue.

Mr Curry had asked Mrs Beckett about the BSE sheep tests during a select committee meeting that same morning.

But she did not mention the fiasco and failed to contact him later.

Mr Curry said: “If officials found out before lunch-time and delayed getting the information in front of Mrs Beckett, it shows a failure to realise how lethal this thing was.

“It could have had a colossal impact and led to the slaughter of the entire sheep flock. The select committee will be taking an interest in this.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed that Mrs Beckett was told “something was up” at about 1pm.

But she then went into another meeting and was not told the “full details” until much later in the afternoon, said a spokesman.

“We were informally told something was in the wind before lunch, but Mrs Beckett was sitting in a series of meetings.

He added: There were practical difficulties at this end in getting people into the right place.”

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