26 October 2001

F&Minquiry is 75% possibility

THE likelihood of forcing the government to hold a public inquiry into the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis is as high as 75%, says West Country legal specialist Tim Russ.

"Im optimistic that if we win a judicial review, we have a 75% chance of forcing the government to hold a full public inquiry," Mr Russ, head of the agricultural law team at solicitor Clarke Willmott and Clarke, told farmers weekly.

If DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett refuses to grant the public inquiry requested by the law firm (News, Oct 19), Mr Russ said he would apply to the Crown Office of the High Court for leave to seek a judicial review.

A preliminary hearing to investigate the case for a judicial review could be heard as early as next month. The judicial review hearing itself could even take place before Christmas, said Mr Russ. It is in farmers and the publics interest that a public inquiry is held into the origins and handling of F&M, he said.

"As a taxpayer Im appalled at the money Britain has been spending and losing on F&M.

"We need a strategy to deal with the disease and, frankly, there does not seem to have been one in place."

Leading barrister Richard Lissack will direct the legal action on behalf of a number of farmers and rural business people who have lost out due to F&M. The costs of the action will be met, on a no-win, no-fee basis, by FW, the Western Morning News and The Western Mail.

A DEFRA spokesman told FW that a public inquiry into F&M would not be cost-effective. "The government has already set up three independent inquiries which will collect evidence and report back more quickly than a public inquiry and save taxpayers money." &#42