Circle Tue, Feb 19 in your diary. It could be the most important day of the farming year. On that date, in Londons High Court begins a judicial review which could force the government to hold a public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis.
After the four-day hearing, two judges will rule whether the government was right to order two independent inquries and a policy commission in the aftermath of the worlds worst F&M outbreak. We hope they will decide that the government was wrong.
After hearing evidence on both sides of the argument, we hope the judges will agree with FARMERS WEEKLY, Horse&Hound and three leading regional newspapers and 126,000 of our rural readers. We hope that they will agree that a public inquiry is the only proper means of investigating an epidemic which cost human lives, destroyed millions of livestock and devastated our economy.
We hope the judges will reach that decision as a mark of respect to the millions who suffered. The people whose loved ones buckled under the strain of watching generations of breeding stock ended with the twitch of a slaughtermans trigger finger. The people whose farm businesses failed. The people who watched their farm shop or bed-and-breakfast sideline wither. The huntsman, the horse people, and the walkers – all of whom were denied their country pursuits.
If all those people are to make sense of their suffering, they need a public inquiry held under the full glare of media scrutiny. If the tragedy is not to be repeated again next month or next year, we need a public inquiry with the power to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath.
If we are to achieve what the Americans call closure on this tragic chapter of our history, we need a public inquiry that will command respect at home and abroad.
For all their sakes, lets hope the legal action beginning on Feb 19 leads to the public inquiry rural Britain desperately wants and deserves.