22 March 2002

SADDAYFORUKJUSTICEASF&MPUBLICINQUIRYBIDGETSTHUMBS-DOWN

Three minutes. Thats all the time it took to reject a legal bid to force the government to hold a full public inquiry into foot-and-mouth. In about the same time as it will take to read this article, Lord Justice Simon Brown dismissed hours of legal arguments presented by QCs, representing three law firms, acting on behalf of clients who had lost £ thousands due to F&M.

His written judgment delivered coded criticism of the government for failing to hold a public inquiry. But he concluded the government had acted within its powers.

Its decision was essentially political, he admitted, adding disingenuously that those who disagreed retained the sanction of the ballot box.

But, as the judge doubtless knows, minorities do not control ballot boxes. We rely on the courts to defend their interests but in this case the High Court failed. Failed not just the claimants, but everyone who wants to see truth and justice prevail in our countryside in the wake of the worlds worst outbreak of F&M.

What a black day for British justice. With what fresh arrogance will this government feel free to deal with minority countryside interests? What price democratic and accountable government when ministers and civil servants are routinely shielded from searching questions.

Who, now, other than the privileged few, will ever know the answers to key questions such as: How did the disease arrive in this country? Why were animal movements not stopped immediately? Why did it take so long to call the army in? Why was vaccination ruled out even though the policy had proved successful in the Netherlands?

Perhaps most worrying of all is the question: Why cannot rural Britain be trusted with such information? It took just three minutes to put the truth beyond our grasp. But millions will spend a lifetime pondering the answers.