6 September 2002

UKlessons in Cumbria report

By Johann Tasker

CUMBRIAS council leader has warned government ministers not to ignore the findings of the countys foot-and-mouth inquiry report which is published today (Fri, Sept 6).

The 120-page report is expected to be the most graphic account yet of the outbreak. Cumbria County Council leader Rex Toft said: "Ill be doing all I can to ensure those in government and in Europe sit up and take notice. It would be criminal not to learn from the experiences in this county.I firmly believe the Cumbria report will be of great importance in ensuring every lesson is learnt from the devastating impact of last years outbreak."

The report will be unveiled at a special conference at Rheged, near Penrith. Inquiry chairman Phil Thomas was asked to take a different approach to previous investigations in Devon and Northumberland. He chose to focus on the harrowing experience of people caught up in the crisis as well as its effect on the countryside.

The document will make about 30 detailed recommendations, including plans to develop a strategy to fight any future disease outbreak in the county and minimise its effect on peoples livelihoods and the wider rural economy. It will warn that the scale of last years crisis, which engulfed the entire region, must never be repeated.

Cumbria was the county worst-hit by the disease. It suffered two in every five of Britains 2030 outbreaks. The last recorded case of the disease was on Sept 30, 2001 at Little Asby, Appleby. But the rural economy has still not recovered even though tourists have returned after footpaths were closed for much of last year.

More than 300 separate submissions of evidence were made to the inquiry. The original timetable suggested that its findings would be published at the end of July. But such was the scale of the investigation that Prof Thomas spent an extra six weeks writing his final report.

Government officials are expected to come in for special criticism. Brigadier Alex Birtwistle, the soldier who led the fight against the epidemic in Cumbria, told the inquiry that a lack of management, leadership and resources resulted in major failures to control the disease during the first three weeks of the outbreak. &#42

Nick Hill from the National Trust said in evidence that MAFF officials had lacked knowledge of hill-farming in Cumbria. Hefted sheep flocks were endangered because officials had failed to realise it was lambing time and were unable to tell farmers whether they should bring sheep down from the hills or leave them.