20 October 1998
Inquiry asks MAFF to hand over BSE tape
By FWi staff
THE Ministry of Agriculture has been asked to hand over a tape containing details of how Government ministers reacted to the BSE crisis.
Officials from the BSE Inquiry today (Tuesday) warned that a refusal to comply with the request could seriously hamper their investigation into the disease.
They believe the tape could prove vital in establishing whether former agriculture ministers adequately informed the public of the risk from BSE.
The tape contains a recording of an interview in which the Governments former chief veterinary officer, Keith Meldrum, expresses his views on John Gummer, the Tory agriculture minister at the height of the BSE crisis.
Mr Meldrum, who yesterday refused to hand over the tape, was this morning asked by Lord Justice Phillips, who is chairing the inquiry, whether he would now release the evidence.
But Mr Meldrum said his mind was unchanged and he again denied officials access to the tape, which is presently held by the Ministry of Agricultures Food Safety Directorate (FSD).
The FSD commissioned the interview, which was conducted by researchers from the department of psychology at the University of Surrey.
Under the terms of the inquiry, no witness can be forced to hand over evidence. But the Government has previously urged all departments to submit as much information as possible. This is the first time evidence has been withheld by a key witness.
Mr Meldrum said the tape contains his own personal views about Mr Gummer. The interview was conducted on condition of confidentiality, he added.
“I have no wish to see comments about previous ministers, about how I viewed Mr Gummer and his ability, for instance, to put over a message to the public,” said Mr Meldrum.