"To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what procedures exist in his Department for a civil servant to report actions which
Parliamentary Secretary, MAFF:-
"The procedures for reporting such concerns are the same for each issue. Where they cannot be resolved through line management, staff may report issues in confidence through someone outside the normal chain of command. For core-MAFF, this is the Director of Establishments; for agency staff, the appropriate Chief Executive. If, after investigation, a member of staff is not satisfied with a given response, a right of appeal exists to the Permanent Secretary and, beyond that, to the Civil Service Commissioners."
Although concerns about "whistle-blowers" surface regularly, I suspect Mr. M.T's question arose from the long-awaited BSE Report, in which former government ministers and civil servants were criticised.
If I am right, bearing in mind that I have not read Lord Phillip's conclusions, would it be fair of me to infer the following:-
I am uncertain of the exact date when the BSE Report was published. If Mr. M.T's queries were NOT consequential to this, then why did he seek information on reporting irregularities and malpractice within MAFF and no other department?
This concerns pending staff increases at MAFF's Carlisle office. Please refer to "The Foot-and-Mouth Epidemic of 2001: Some background on the Jonathan Proctor Interview with Sir Rupert Mainwaring," Section Four, for details.
MP for South Norfolk:- .."Another reason why this crisis is different from 1967 is that there is a heavy surplus in the Government's finances ...The contingency fund is intended for exactly this type of situation. Unlike many schemes and programmes that the Minister is sometimes urged to take up, it is a one-off crisis that would not be repeated in later years. Therefore, in that context, from the Treasury's point of view, it is not a bother."
"To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food:
Min. of State, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food:-
"I assume that the Hon. Member's questions relate to the media speculation that the Government were aware that foot and mouth existed in the UK prior to the first notification of disease on 19th February. Such speculation is entirely without foundation.
"The Ministry has contingency plans to deal with all notifiable, exotic animal diseases, including foot and mouth disease. These are regularly updated and tested by the State Veterinary Services. As part of this process, Animal Health Offices, including the one at Stafford, will quite correctly contact contracters from whom they may need services or supplies during a disease outbreak. Any inquiries directed to the businesses mentioned by the Hon. Member would have been made as part of these contingency planning arrangements.
"Information on all the timber stockists contacted by the Ministry over the last year is not held centrally and could be provided only at a disproportionate cost."
Friends of mine resident in Cumbria, Northumbria and Southern Scotland have reported that timber merchants in their areas, amounting to a significant number of firms, were approached by government employees with regard to provision of combustible material during Autumn 2000.
A road haulage and ground excavation company - William J. Sleet and Sons Ltd - based at Glastonbury, Somerset, was given a new lease of life on Monday 16th October 2000, courtesy of officials from MAFF and DETR.
Hitherto, the firm's prospects of remaining viable would have meant selling off its heavy-plant division with inevitable redundancies but, from that day, the emphasis was on purchasing equipment and recruitment instead of cost-cutting.
Six months hence, "The Sleety Lads" or, less affectionately, "MAFF's Marauders," as they became known throughout South-West England and the Welsh Borderlands, were a familiar sight during the culling and deadstock disposal operations.
Details of the meeting between Bill Sleet, his elder son Adrian and Government representatives will never be divulged due to Official Secrets Act procedures. Nevertheless, both parties were more than satisfied with events resulting from the contract negotiated and signed on 16th October 2000.
(Names of persona, locations and the EXACT date in October 2000 have been respectively altered and surmised in order to maintain confidentiality).
"An eminent scientist with thirty years experience of infectious diseases challenged Mr. Blair in a prominent Sunday newspaper to come clean and tell the truth about the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
"The scientist went on to state that the virus which has devastated Britain's livestock is not active in any other part of the world and could only have come from a UK laboratory."
I have not read this article. Has the scientist's allegations been scrutinised by his/her peers?
Min. of State, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food:-
... "The Foot and Mouth Reference Laboratory in Pirbright holds a library of over 5,000 strains from all over the world."
My comment:- The missing phial of FMD Culture from Porton Down - as reported in The Sunday Express on 8th April 2001 - could have been any one of these 5,000 varieties. Could its characteristics have undergone alterations, using appropriate bio-technology, in order to mimic Type O?
Martin is a keen cyclist and spends most of his spare time travelling around the rural depths of England's third largest county.
Our chat took place earlier this month and because the events he described happened back in Spring and Summer 2001, Martin could not be specific over dates.
Martin Grant: ..."about the same time that the people were saying, "Oh, there's a problem with this foot-and-mouth" ...the first piece of tape that I saw was down at Jacobstowe. Then I saw another down at Jacobstowe and now, I've spotted the remains of one at Inwardleigh. And there's also another on the Highampton road heading over towards Holsworthy."
Mark Brook: "These tapes...were they tied to wire fences?"
Martin Grant: "A hedge, fences and a tree."
Mark Brook: "What colour were the tapes?"
Martin Grant: "Yellow. ...Also, what I have in the house is a souvenir from Sleety's lads(*). A jumper, discarded on the roadside. Also, what I did spot, discarded in a lay-by on the road- side, was a vet's white boiler suit."
Later in the conversation ...
Martin Grant: ..."generally just about the same time ... this seemed to coincide that anyone that got a tape got foot-and-mouth. As if somebody had deliberately done something."
Mark Brook: "In other words, to ear-mark the farm for possible infection?"
Martin Grant: "Yes. That was the impression that I got...yes. If you go down to Inwardleigh, there is still one of the tapes hanging on the fence. It's still there because I checked the other day."
(*) Employees of William J. Sleet and Sons Ltd, who were involved in the livestock cull and disposal operations.
... comment is unnecessary: the details speak volumes!
The Bratton family have lived and worked on West End Farm near Inwardleigh, Devon for countless generations.
One afternoon towards the end of April this year, Mrs. Bratton encountered two men in white overalls outside the cattle shed. Upon asking them to explain their presence on the farm, she was curtly informed that they were MAFF officials who had every right to inspect agricultural premises. One of the men peremptorily requested Mrs. Bratton to go back indoors.
As she was returning to the house, Mrs. Bratton took a look inside the ministry van, its rear doors having been left open. There, she saw a severed animal tongue and her main concern was the possibility of contamination: foot-and-mouth disease was rife in Central and Northern Devon.
Mrs. Bratton telephoned the police station at Hatherleigh, informing the duty constable of these events, and was told that her call would be returned. The following day, having received no such communication, Mrs. Bratton contacted the police station again and learned that there was no record of her initial telephone call.
The farm's livestock was subsequently culled.
Shortly before the catastrophe of Tuesday 11th September 2001, one of Britain's foremost authors and journalists wrote an article on the Foot-and-Mouth Crisis which was published by The Sunday Telegraph. I have not read the text but understand that it was, to state the least, controversial and scathing towards the government's actions both before and during disease manifestation.
I believe that had the planned atrocities on New York and Washington remained mere perverted desires instead of achieving actualisation, the saga of Britain's worst agricultural disaster would still have been media omnipresent.
Prior to September 11th, Westminster/Whitehall's efforts to neutralise investigations into its own gross misconduct vis-a-vis Foot-and-Mouth Disease were slowly being undermined, to eventually founder.
Whilst the destruction of New York's World Trade Center was being witnessed by countless millions of stunned viewers during that fateful Tuesday, an advisor to HM Government despatched a memorandum to her colleagues. The message was stark: "Now would be a good time to bury bad news."
Of course, it would be naive to deny that when an opportunity arises whereby sensitive and potentially damaging documents can "disappear," and controversial decisions be enacted with minimal protest, full advantage of such a distraction would be grasped with relish!
However, there is a logical, yet sinister, sequence which can be summarised thus:-
Westminster/Whitehall should consider adopting the above as their mantra. It has already achieved some success, not least in suppressing certain details about the 2001 Foot-and-Mouth Epidemic - a national scandal of epic proportions.
Mark Brook, Weymouth, Dorset: 21st November 2001.
Editor's Note: The foregoing is a true account. Only certain names and places have been changed.