11 January 2002

Its Yes to judicial review as BBC

opts to give evidence at hearing

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By Mike Stones

A JUDICIAL review which could force the government to hold a public inquiry into foot-and-mouth will be heard at the High Court next month. The public inquiry campaign organised by FARMERS WEEKLY, Horse&Hound and three regional newspapers, is now being backed by the BBC. It will supply evidence at the hearing in London on Tue, Feb 19.

A BBC spokesman said: "The corporation will submit evidence [in support of a public inquiry] based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, covering freedom of information." He added: "Our aim is to maintain freedom of expression which is why we are making this submission."

Two sentences were all it took for Tony Blair to dismiss 126,000 signatures collected by four publications in support of the inquiry campaign. The petition will be delivered to Downing Street on Mon (Jan 14). But the Prime Minister refused to meet the editors of FARMERS WEEKLY, Horse&Hound and The Western Morning News in Plymouth, Western Mail in Cardiff and The Journal, Newcastle.

Nevertheless, Fleet Street representatives are also expected to provide evidence at the judicial review. They include the Telegraph Group, which owns The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph; Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail and Evening Standard; and the Mirror Group, which owns the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror.

The judicial review will be heard by Lord Justice Simon Brown and Mr Justice Scott Baker. After hearing evidence in support of the need for a public inquiry and the case against, the judges will decide whether the government acted properly in ordering three independent inquiries or whether a full public inquiry should be held.

Devon farmer and public inquiry campaigner Robert Persey said he was delighted with the BBCs decision. "It is good news that the BBC is on side with our campaign for a public inquiry. It shows the corporation has over ridden concerns of upsetting government and is prepared to act on a major public interest issue."

Three legal teams, West Country firm Clarke Willmott and Clarke, Welsh firm Gabb and Co and Bristol-based Burges Salmon, will provide evidence of the need for a public inquiry on behalf of 16 claimants who have lost out due to the F&M crisis. Each of the firms, and the leading barrister Richard Lissack who will direct the Clarke Wilmott case, is operating on a no win no fee basis.

Nicholas Bowen of legal chambers 29 Bedford Row is acting on behalf of the BBC and the national newspapers.

Tim Russ of Clarke Willmott and Clarke said: "Im 60-70% certain of success. The governments decision is wrong and I hope we will be able to prove in court that it is manifestly wrong." &#42