MHSignores climbdown accusation

1 September 2000

MHSignores climbdown accusation

THE Meat Hygiene Service has refused to comment on claims that it has abandoned a criminal investigation into a Herefordshire abattoir owner who allegedly assaulted a vet he blamed for the closure of his meat plant.

John Mead was joint manager of the Mead Webber meat plant at Eardisley until it closed in April. He was later accused of assaulting MHS vet Richard Turner, claiming that Mr Turner had forced the abattoir out of business after downgrading the plant during a series of hygiene inspections.

Mead Webber is being represented by Richard North, a research director in the European Parliament. Dr North told farmers weekly on Wed Aug 30 that the investigation into the alleged assault by Mr Mead had now been dropped. The move was "a complete climbdown", he said.

The MHS refused to confirm whether the case had been dropped. "All I can confirm is that we are not commenting," an MHS spokesman said. However, if the investigation has been abandoned, the decision would pave the way for a groundbreaking inquiry by the Food Standards Agency into the role of the MHS in the closure of the abattoir.

Early inquiry

Any such inquiry could begin as early as this month. The agencys investigation, which may be open to the pubic, will be chaired by Michael Ware, chairman of the MHS appeals tribunal. The Food Standards Agency had said it will not proceed with the investigation into the MHS until the hygiene services investigation into the alleged assault was complete.

Dr North said Mr Mead and his partner Phil Webber would claim up to £3m in compensation if the MHS is found to have acted unreasonably or unprofessionally in the closure of their abattoir. Before Mr Mead was accused of assault, both men had lodged a formal complaint against Mr Turner and MHS regional director Ivor Pumfrey.

The news that Mr Mead may not now be prosecuted was welcomed by Christopher Gill, the Tory MP for Ludlow. Mr Gill, who is chairman of his familys farming and meat processing business, has pushed for an independent investigation into the closure of the Mead Webber plant.

An inquiry into the MHS would be "an acid test of the Food Standard Agencys potential to do good – or otherwise", he said.

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