Readers demand public inquiry

19 October 2001

Readers demand 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 force a judicial review.

The four publications instructed their solicitors after a joint campaign attracted more than 100,000 signatures from readers demanding an inquiry.

West-Country solicitor Clarke Willmott and Clarke has written to Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett requesting a public inquiry into the 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 the Western Morning News, the Western Mail, FARMERS WEEKLY 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 foot-and-mouth.

“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 agricultural law at Clarke Willmott and Clarke, wrote the letter to Mrs Beckett on behalf of farmers and other business people.

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 Wiltshire/Somerset border.

He took part in inquiries into the Ladbroke Grove train crash and the running of the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Each editor 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 the Western Morning News.

“Our commitment to underwrite the costs of a judicial review was a natural step for us.”

Alistair Milburn, deputy editor of the The Western Mail, said: “We have serious reservations about how the government has handled the inquiry.”

He added: “After the outbreak more than 30 years ago, the government vowed it would never happen again. But sadly it has.”

Arnold Garvey, editor of Horse & Hound, said: “The 101,000 signatures we have collected bear testimony to the strength of feeling across the country.”

FARMERS WEEKLY editor Stephen Howe said the magazine received many messages of support after it launched its Public Inquiry campaign.

“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.”

Meanwhile, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 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 department spokesman.


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