17 August 2001

Protest march over inquiry No

By FW reporters

CAMPAIGNERS are set to march on Downing Street after the government ruled out a full public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Producers are livid at the decision to hold three independent investigations into F&M rather than a full public inquiry. There are now 10 inquiries looking at various aspects of the crisis. The main investigations will focus on the governments handling of the epidemic, a scientific review and a commission on the future of farming.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett said separate, independent probes would be quicker and cheaper than a single public inquiry. An ongoing inquiry process rather than an "all-singing, all-dancing public inquiry" was "the most effective way, the speediest way and the most cost effective way," she added.

Farmers and rural interest groups gave a mixed reaction to the news. NFU president Ben Gill said it was crucial for the inquiries to be seen as open and transparent. "Farmers will want to help protect themselves from this kind of disaster again and they will expect government to work with them on this."

But a number of farmers remain convinced a public inquiry is the only way to make sure nothing is hidden. They plan to combine under the banner "FMD Alliance" to march on Downing Street on Monday (Aug 20).

Marchers will assemble at Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, between noon and 1pm and from there will march direct to Number 10. They included the "Heart of Devon" group started by TV celebrity Noel Edmunds, and other groups modelled on it from Cumbria, Yorkshire and Essex.

The march is being organised by Farmers For Action. Devon Co-ordinator Maurice Vellacott said: "This is not a group of crazy farmers and weirdos from the backwoods. This is an alliance of sensible, like-minded people from across the whole range of society who simply want to know the truth."

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Anyone of like mind is welcome and anyone with petitions are invited to bring them and present them to number 10 Downing Street, he added.