Judicial review may force

19 October 2001

Judicial review may force

F&Mfull public inquiry

By Stephen Howe

and Mike Stones

THE government could be forced to hold a full public inquiry into foot-and-mouth if farmers weekly and three other titles are successful in forcing a judicial review.

West Country solicitor Clarke Willmott and Clarke has written to DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett requesting a public inquiry into the F&M crisis. If the government refuses, leading barrister Richard Lissack and a legal team will start proceedings for a judicial review.

The costs of the legal action will be met on a no-win, no-fee basis by Western Morning News, The Western Mail, FW and Horse &Hound.

The letter sent to Mrs Beckett insists: "The general public has a legitimate interest in there being a full inquiry into all aspects of F&M. The law requires this legitimate interest be achieved through a thorough and vigorous public examination of the issues. The inquiries that you ordered at the least appear to be neither public nor independent."

Tim Russ, head of the agricultural law team at Clarke Willmott and Clarke, wrote the letter to Mrs Beckett on behalf of the complainants who are farmers and other business people who have lost out due to F&M. The names were supplied by the titles supporting the legal action.

"If we do have a full, open examination of the issues, we should learn a lot of valuable lessons for the future, which we may not be able to if we have three separate inquiries," said Mr Russ.

Mr Lissack, who will represent the complainants if the review goes ahead, runs a 100ha (250 acre) farm on the Wilts/Somerset border. He took part in inquiries into the Ladbroke Grove train crash and the running of the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Each of the editors pledged to do all in their power to support the legal action. "Our readers are already very familiar with the vigour of our campaign on this issue," said Barrie Williams, editor of Western Morning News. "Our commitment to underwrite the costs of a judicial review was a natural step for us."

Alistair Milburn, deputy editor, The Western Mail, said: "We have serious reservations about how the government has handled the inquiry from the outset. After the outbreak more than 30 years ago, the government vowed it would never happen again. But sadly it has."

Arnold Garvey, editor, Horse&Hound, believes passionately in the need for a public inquiry. "The 101,000 signatures we have collected bear testimony to the strength of feeling across the country."

FW Editor Stephen Howe reports many messages of support he has received for the titles Public Inquiry Campaign launched on Jul 13. "Our office has been inundated with telephone calls, faxes and e-mails all backing our campaign for a public inquiry. Too many people have suffered too much to allow the government to escape with three inquiries that will not be held in public and have no power to summon witnesses."

Meanwhile, DEFRA has denied accusations of a cover-up. "All the inquiries are entirely independent. I cant see that the allegations of a cover-up stand up," said a DEFRA spokesman.

&#8226 For industry reaction to our 101,000-strong petition see page 14. &#42

Richard Lissack, barrister and farmer, will represent complainants.

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