The Foot-and-Mouth Crisis of 2001: Bo-Peep in Blunderland.

This supersedes all my previous articles on Foot-and-Mouth Disease (henceforth abbreviated to FMD) with the exception of Jonathan Proctor's interview with Sir Rupert Mainwaring (August 2001). Between then and now - nearly two years - revision has been necessitated due to emergence of fresh information which has refuted some of my earlier assertions.

An example was the planning and preparations carried out prior to February 2001. The manner in which these were eventually leaked pointed to a gross conspiracy directed against recalcitrant rural communities unwilling to share New Labour's vision of a green and pleasant land. The truth was even more squalid: a classic case of blunder leading to cover-up with a conspiratorial element thrown in to keep the spin-doctors gainfully employed.

In fact, had Westminster/Whitehall ensured that adequate tried and tested livestock disease eradication protocols existed in 2000 - which should have been, but was NOT the case - the situation whereby opportunists and profiteers were allowed to determine policy, at the expense of rural Britain, would never have arisen, let alone have been permitted.

Therefore, the question has to be not what WAS being done in the months before 19th February 2001 but WHY the measures were so inadequate. A crude maxim springs to mind: Prior planning, preparation and practice prevents p*** poor performance. This is often quoted by the Army - which should have been deployed from the outset!

However, mendacity has triumphed. In the Chief Veterinary Officer's report on the Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 (DEFRA, 2002), it was stated that:-

" ... suggestions that DEFRA or MAFF had knowledge of the presence of FMD in the country before its discovery on 19 February were incorrect." (As quoted in the Cumbria Foot & Mouth Inquiry Report, Cumbria County Council, September 2002).

Given New Labour's propensity for dishonesty, it is no surprise that they do not intend to institute a fully independent public enquiry into the FMD crisis. The notion of ministers, senior civil servants and "special advisors" being summoned to give evidence UNDER OATH would be too horrible to contemplate!

I am an optimist: a public enquiry will take place once Britain has undergone its own "regime change," probably from within the wider Labour movement.

Allegations, Disinformation and Rumours: Some comments and questions.

(1). Is it true that FMD warning and access prohibition notices were being printed in Germany and/or other European countries at least two months prior to February 2001?

(2). It has been alleged that during 2000, some cattle, supposedly destroyed under BSE eradication regulations, were suspected of having been in contact with sheep incubating FMD Pan-Asiatic Type O virii. Over a year ago, a prominent and highly regarded South-West newspaper mentioned the possibility of exhuming bovine remains in order to test this hypothesis. I may be correct in assuming that evidence of FMD would be found amongst the ashes, since the slaughtered beasts were likely to have been incinerated. Given current forensic pathological investigative methodology, the ability to confirm the presence of FMD should not be impossible. What has been the response of DEFRA on this matter?

(3). It was reported that MAFF over-estimated the sheep census for 1999/2000 by approximately one million. Thus, the very cheap quota for 2000/2001 encouraged some farmers to "play the system" without having the actual livestock to show for it. Consequently, when Ministry officials started their inspections during early February 2001, sheep were moved from farm to farm, region to region in order to stave off prosecutions for fraud. This would not only account for the rapid dispersal of FMD but also place the blame on those few farmers whose irresponsible efforts to conceal their dishonesty compounded the epidemic. However, to miscalculate the sheep population by as much as a one million surplus does seem to have been extraordinarily incompetent. I would have thought that the resulting deflation in quota should have alerted MAFF to the error. Presumably, it is their responsibility to monitor and regulate subsidies.

(4). There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to indicate that FMD Pan-Asiatic Type O was present in the UK at least four months prior to February 2001. To the best of my knowledge, media reports supporting this claim have not been explained away satisfactorily by DEFRA. If I am correct in my assumption that the epidemic's origin was contaminated sheep, these having either escaped from, or, having been in contact with animals on a MAFF vaccine testing establishment, then it COULD explain - at least adequately - the following hypothetical sequence of events:-

(a) Mid-September 2000: Two ewes have disappeared from Redeshaugh Farm, by Otterburn, Northumberland. These creatures were part of the Control Group in a Field Research Programme testing the effectiveness of a new vaccine for FMD P-A Type O. They are antigen positive. Despite frantic efforts, the sheep remain at large. Two farm employees await disciplinary proceedings for gross negligence.

(b) Three days later: Sheep from neighbouring farms, having just been sold at Hexham Livestock Market, are en-route to South Wales and mid-Devon. MAFF officials in Brecon and Exeter have been alerted. Under no circumstances will FMD be mentioned. If the Farmers' Union, who have been opposed to vaccination, find out about Redeshaugh, the consequences would be unthinkable! The way to deal with any disease outbreaks will be to use existing disposal arrangements for BSE and Classic Swine Fever.

(c) Mid-October 2000: Until then, FMD has been satisfactorily contained. However, information on suspected cases in mid-Wales, Lancashire and West Yorkshire has just been received. It is becoming clear that the current methodology has run its course. A meeting of senior personnel from MAFF, DETR and The Home Office is convened for...

(d) ...22nd October 2000. At the conference - which never officially took place - it was agreed that if left unchecked, a situation would arise where the entire ovine population could be potential carriers of FMD P-A Type O. Time was running out. By acting now, despite the predicted mass slaughter, an even greater holocaust would be averted.

A task-force, designated for deadstock disposal and infection-zone decontamination, was to be instituted. It became clear that current arrangements were inadequate.

Once these plans were progressing, it would be necessary to publicly announce the existence of FMD. A source of infection (other than Redeshaugh!) needed to be identified but that was outwith the meeting's immediate concern. Separate measures were being taken in that respect. Enter a certain pig farm at Ryton-on-Tyne, Northumberland.*

I would be interested to know how far the reality deviates from my hypothesis outlined above. Would a spokesperson from DEFRA care to comment?

* Hotshill Farm, Ryton-on-Tyne is not the establishment's real name.

(5) One rumour concerning FMD is the existence of an experimental farm, or similar establishment, where research into vaccination was undertaken.( I am not delving into the rights and wrongs of this issue, other than to quote an old adage: "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." Readers from the European Commission and Council of Ministers will need no further elaboration!).

I have been told about this mysterious place from no less than five people. The only consensus is its location: somewhere in either Northern England or Southern Scotland. One name has been mentioned thrice: Sourhope, Roxburghshire.

No mention was made of a far more likely venue for such work: The Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Bush Loan, Midlothian. Both this and Sourhope are highly prestigious establishments. It would neither surprise nor alarm me if FMD vaccine research was - and still is - carried out at these locations. I cannot rule out the possibility of inadvertance or malfeasance but my "gut instinct" suggests that the integrity of Moredun's and Sourhope's staff is beyond reproach.

It is likely that MAFF wanted research of this nature to be carried out well away from scrutiny, especially from the Farmers' Union and others opposed to vaccination. The irony was that such attitudes contributed towards a culture of mistrust where none needed to exist in the first place!

With an organism as infectious as FMD, any experimental establishment using livestock in significant numbers needs to fulfill the following criteria:-

To satisfy these requirements, ideal locations would lie within the Otterburn Military Training area. Bearing the aforementioned points in mind, I have identified the following possible sites:-

RIDLEESHOPE. Grid Ref. NT826066.
FULHOPE. Grid Ref. NT818102 and the valley proceeding southward to the (un-named) settlement at Grid Ref. NT815088.

There are a number of farms in the immediate vicinity of Otterburn and Redesdale Camps. Although public access routes criss-cross these areas (closed during manoeuvres), security would not be a problem. Any bio-hazards could be easily contained under NBC warfare regulations, with which all services personnel are familiar.

It is likely that shortly after the ovine escape (see previous section), measures were taken to remove all traces of bio-research from the establishment. Consequently, it may be impossible to prove the existence of such a site without cooperation from DEFRA and MOD, in the unlikely event of a Public Enquiry.

There have been stories concerning itinerant farm labourers from either Australia, New Zealand or Canada who, having worked temporarily at an unspecified location, were obliged to sign the Official Secrets Act. Whilst this is not uncommon practice at H.M. Government establishments, I am surprised that anybody other than positively-vetted regular staff would be allowed access to such a secret, sensitive location. Either this is disinformation or yet another example of departmental incompetence on the part of MAFF. Four questions arise:- (1). Did these (temporary) ex-employees actually exist? (2). Where are they now? (3). In the event of an independent Public Enquiry, where evidence is given UNDER OATH, will they be summoned to testify? (4). If the answers to the above are affirmative, will measures be taken to prevent them from attending?

It should have been plain to MAFF that by early December 2000 - at the very latest - FMD was spreading amongst the ovine population like wildfire. Efforts to conceal the problem using BSE and Classic Swine Fever as convenient alibis were not only failing but also delaying acceptance that a civil bio-emergency of unprecedented proportions was looming.

I find it incredible that such ineptitude was allowed to prevail and, whilst there were some within the government encouraging a "go slow" policy for the most cynical of motives, common-sense should have reinforced the need for urgent action. If this meant breaching EEC regulations vis-a-vis FMD - these being contradictory, convoluted and devoid of rational scientific basis - then so be it.

Had the disease been publicly declared during early December and the Northumberland Enquiry recommendations implemented IN FULL, the following year's carnival of blood, mud and fire would have been a very muted, short-lived affair.

I am adamant in my view that had MAFF been commanded by people of even average integrity and intellect, 2001 would not have been so disastrous for the countryside. The ongoing recovery, although painful and slow, is gaining momentum. The credit for this lies entirely with the farming/rural community. They owe the government nothing. They ARE owed the satisfaction of a fully independent public enquiry which, under this present rogue administration, will not be forthcoming.

Blame for the Foot-and-Mouth epidemic of 2001 falls fairly and squarely upon New Labour's shoulders. By declaring a state of emergency in early December 2000 and having had the decency to acknowledge prior contributing errors, trust would have been restored despite initial recriminations. But this was not to be. Procrastination presented opportunities for change...

If delay resulted in large quantities of livestock ceasing to exist, the long-term advantages would outweigh any temporary difficulties. Firstly, it would force rationalisation of the farming industry, thereby strengthening demands to reform the unwieldy European Union Common Agricultural Policy. Secondly, grazing lands of animals due for extermination could be used in a variety of new schemes, examples being GM crops, forestry and wind- turbine installations. The residue of Britain's livestock would be strictly regulated and eventually absorbed by the multi-national food processing corporations, whose philosophies are not based on green and pleasant lands.

Lastly, The Countryside Alliance and affiliated organisations - Millbank's great enemy - would have its influence eroded beyond repair. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that New Labour intended to neutralise what one of its spokespersons sneeringly referred to as "the rural nutters' cartel."

Within the dark corridors of Westminster/Whitehall lurks an organisation without a name. It is not allied to any particular department since, officially, it does not exist. The employees of this furtive cadre were - and still are - drawn from H.M. Armed Forces, the Police and, let it be stated, from those of criminal inclinations whose special attributes would be deemed most useful.

The activities of these untraceable, unaccountable morons, which almost eviscerated rural Britain, began at Ryton-on-Tyne. Masquerading as bona-fide government employees, they subjected the rural community to actions involving gross misconduct and wholesale abuses of Official Secrets Act procedures. By the time their evil tasks were completed, MAFF (already discredited) had been rendered impotent and ready for transmogrification into DEFRA. Scores of farmers had committed suicide and countless others were to experience psychiatric illnesses. The deadstock toll was estimated to be in excess of seven million.

I can think of no other episode in British domestic history where the art of mendacity achieved such perfection.

Yet little would have been accomplished without assistance from this sinister clique - henceforth referred to as CAD (Covert Action Detail). Members were able to pose as "Special Advisors," in a variety of guises, to MAFF, MOD, DETR and The Home Office (responsible for policing and domestic security). To many employees within these departments, CAD operatives were regarded as "part of the team" and to those who asked awkward questions, rank was pulled to ensure compliance.

Although proof of CAD's involvement in the FMD debacle will never emerge, I am able to recount three circumstantial episodes...

(1) Hotshill Farm, Ryton-on Tyne.

CAD's first task was to create a precipitating incident in order to establish an identifiable infection source which would bring FMD into the open. Thus, whilst MAFF/DETR were assembling apparatus for mass slaughter - giving scant regard to logistics - the quest to find a "dirty farm" proceeded apace.

News, especially that of an unsavoury nature, travels fast in rural areas. Ryton-on-Tyne is no exception to this rule. Conditions on Hotshill Farm and Mr.Eve's poor animal husbandry methods were well-known to the local authorities, the RSPCA and MAFF officials. To certain "special advisors" guiding the latter organisation, here was an opportunity too good to miss. On NO account must the farm be closed down - yet!

It may never be established whether FMD P-A Type O was already lurking in the hills and dales of Northumberland due to the aforementioned errors in a vaccination experiment. Certainly, there were no (overt) grounds for suspicion until after 22nd February 2001 that the disease had already taken hold around Ryton-on-Tyne.

A subsequent report stated that "...intensive tracing to identify and visit all holdings that might have introduced FMD infection onto Hotshill Farm revealed no potential source. ... the direct spread of the disease from the farm is believed to have led to at least 14 of the 70 FMD cases identified in Northumberland up to July 15, including one nearby farm where cattle were found to be infected on February 23. This farm had sent sheep(,) kept in a shed near to the cattle showing the oldest FMD lesions(,) to Hexham market on February 13. ...(it was suggested that) these sheep were the source of the widespread dissemination of the disease across the UK." From The Journal, Friday 31st May 2002. The parenthesis is mine.

Looking at the brief chronology of events...

(a). 22nd December 2000.
Hotshill Farm visited by MAFF Inspectors and a Government Veterinary Officer following complaints from the RSPCA over animal welfare concerns. No evidence of disease was found, although misgivings were expressed about the condition of two pigs. According to one newspaper report, an argument had arisen over whether to prosecute Mr.Eve on this matter.

(b). 24th January 2001.
MAFF and Trading Standards Officials visited the farm and noticed an improvement in conditions, the two pigs having been penned on their own.

(c). 16th February 2001.
Pigs from Hotshill Farm were sent to an abbatoir in Essex.

(d). 19th February 2001.
The abbatoir contacted Mr.Eve informing him that a notifiable disease was suspected.

(e). 21st February 2001.
The disease was confirmed as FMD Pan-Asiatic Type O.
(f). 22nd February 2001. MAFF and Trading Standards Officials revisited Hotshill Farm and found that ninety-per-cent of Mr.Eve's pigs had FMD symptoms, some lesions being approximately twelve days old. .. it is likely that FMD was introduced to the farm anytime between 8th and 12th February 2001 if the assumption of twelve-day-old lesions - mentioned in press reports - is correct. I have taken into account the time required for initial symptoms to appear, although it is impossible to be precise on this point. Bearing in mind that, with the exception of a FMD outbreak on the Isle of Wight during 1981, Britain having been disease-free since 1967, would Mr.Eve have KNOWN what the earliest signs looked like?

MAFF would have sent circulars to all livestock farmers informing them of FMD and what precautions to take. I believe a letter of this nature was sent to Mr.Eve during September 1998 in the wake of fears arising from a new strain of the virus affecting Asia and South-East Europe.

However, given the plethora of forms and other bureaucratic impedimenta arriving through farm letterboxes with regular monotony, FMD would NOT have been uppermost in his mind - until mid-February 2001.

The Cumbria FMD Inquiry Report (published by Cumbria County Council, September 2002) made reference to the Chief Veterinary Officer's conclusion that the disease spread FROM Hotshill Farm (CVO report on the Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001: DEFRA, 2002.). However, no remotely plausible explanation has been submitted on HOW Hotshill Farm became infected in the first place.

Much speculation has arisen concerning illegally imported foodstuffs. Any such matter, in order to avoid discovery, would undergo the same degree of meticulous preparation afforded to authorised edible imports. No criminal network operating a racket of this nature would tolerate lapses which, for example, could lead to food poisoning and its consequences. The notion of meat oozing pestilence and decay entering the UK is nothing less than media exaggeration as well as an insult to the smugglers' well-organised methodology. Therefore, the likelyhood of FMD being introduced to Britain via clandestine routes and remaining extant is an improbability unworthy of serious consideration.

These four newspaper extracts refer to the diet of Mr.Eve's pigs, the last offering an explanation of how FMD arrived at Hotshill Farm. I have dealt with food imports: the following refers to all edible matter irrespective of source. The adjectives "uncooked" and "unprocessed," as applied to leftovers, need clarification with regard to microorganism survival and propagation.

Firstly, I will look at food destined for human consumption.

During the last decade, regulations governing preparation, processing and packaging food have been tightened, resulting in Britain possessing the strictest codes of practice in Europe. Occasionally, poisoning outbreaks occur but these are effectively traced to their source and remedied - sometimes involving closure of the supplier, wholesaler and/or restaurant.

Foodstuffs purchased by hotels, schools, hospitals - and Chinese restaurants - have, in general, been pre-processed and packaged. For example, meat would have been de-boned, with much of the fatty tissue and offal excised. Then, the residue will have been cooked under stringent guidelines concerning temperature and length of time. Regulations affecting preparation of dairy produce, grain, vegetables and fruit are equally prescriptive. Extra care would be taken with salads, where some fruit and vegetables are eaten raw.

It would be at least a million-to-one chance that the FMD virus could withstand such treatment.

Secondly, I will attempt to clarify the distinction between "processed" and "unprocessed" waste.

Processing such matter involves re-heating and pureeing in order to kill pathogens accumulated between leaving the restaurant kitchen and arrival at a designated swill production unit. Waste which has NOT undergone such treatment can be classified as "unprocessed," bearing in mind that the food would have ALREADY been subjected to rigorous preparation beforehand.

The notion of a super-virus surviving a voyage of up to several thousand miles in a non-clinical - i.e., non-protective - environment, being washed, fried in oil for several minutes or roasted in an oven for much longer, then, finally, to become part of a slurry and re-heated is derisive, even if the last stage of this incredible journey was omitted!

Thirdly, it is necessary to sort out the obfuscation regarding Mr.Eve's pig-swill.

Two newspaper reports refer to uncooked and unprocessed matter, yet he was cleared in court of bringing this onto his farm. Another press item mentioned a video made by Trading Standards Officers during 22nd February 2001 showing "... metal drums being hauled from under a trailer and emptied. They contained bones, semi-liquified flesh and other waste." (Northumbrian Echo, 31st May 2002). Mr.Eve was unable to account for these.

In fact, the pig-swill came from a neighbouring piggery AND waste food processing unit.

Mr.Eve was only licensed to feed such matter to his herd. Since he was exonerated of bringing unprocessed swill onto Hotshill Farm, the presence of those metal drums and their foul contents remains a mystery. It is most unlikely that they were connected with his neighbour.

It would be logical to assume that the pigs on both farms ate the same processed matter, this having undergone EXACTLY THE SAME preparation regime! The differences were location and circumstance. Mr.Eve's neighbour did not experience an orchestrated descent into chaos during the week leading up to 19th February because, as far as I can ascertain, there were no manifestations of FMD on his farm. However, I expect all livestock in the immediate vicinity of Hotshill was subsequently culled on the grounds of being in "dangerous contact."

To clarify the murky issue of pig-swill, the following can be dismissed as pure nonsense:-

Therefore, if there is ANY credence in the infected swill theory, the virus could ONLY have been introduced to Hotshill Farm once it had left his neighbour's processing unit.

To conclude, CAD would have not been aware that sheep in the vicinity of Ryton-on-Tyne were - or were not - harbouring FMD unless tests had been carried out in secret between December 2000 and early February 2001. If such investigations had proved positive, there was no guarantee that Hotshill - the designated "dirty farm," yet disease-free at the time - would become infected before other farms in the area. Since Mr.Eve's establishment had to be eventually declared as the outbreak's source, it would have been disastrous if another farm succumbed to FMD BEFORE Hotshill.

Readers may exercise their imaginations on how CAD overcame this problem. I suspect that either one, or more, of Mr.Eve's pigs was injected with the virus or, if the contaminated foodstuffs theory is correct, the processed swill received an additional ingredient. The aforementioned metal canisters and their foul contents were probably planted later to further the impression of decay and squalor, thereby reinforcing a very negative image of farming practice.

Mr.Eve and his so-called "farm of filth" provided Millbank's puppet-masters with an ideal alibi. He would shoulder blame for initiating the dispersal of FMD, thereby removing the onus of responsibility for the crisis from MAFF. Here was the archetypal "fall-guy" ready to be framed!

(2). 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon ...'

I am unable to corroborate the following. For reasons of confidentiality, locations and the person's name have been altered.

Martin Grant is a keen cyclist and spends much of his time travelling around the rural depths of England's third largest county. Our conversation took place during November 2001, at the time when FMD had almost run its course. Because the events he mentioned in brief happened back in springtime, Martin could not be specific over dates.

If the chat had been held seven months earlier, I could have visited these locations armed with my camera and note-book. However, it is debatable whether I would have suspected anything unusual amongst the (then ongoing) livestock roundup and slaughter operations. This may have been skulduggery on the part of CAD to prepare the ground for MAFF interventions or a legitimate, agreed means of identifying farm lands WITHIN a contiguous cull zone.

I recount the salient part of the conversation thus:-

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 at Jacobstowe and now, I've spotted the remains of one at Inwardleigh. And there's another on the Highampton road heading over towards Holsworthy."

M.B: "These tapes ...were they tied to wire fences?"

M.G: "A hedge, fences and a tree."

M.B: "What colour were the tapes?"

M.G: "Yellow."

Later in our chat:-

M.G: " ...this seemed to coincide that anyone that got a tape got foot-and-mouth. As if somebody had deliberately done something."

M.B: "In other words, to earmark the farm for possible infection?"

M.G: "Yes. That was the impression that I got...yes."

If these pieces of yellow tape were in place BEFORE there was ANY indication of FMD in the areas concerned, then it would be reasonable to suspect foul play on the part of CAD. At the time, farmers would have been too busy - and preoccupied - to notice anything as seemingly unimportant as a few pieces of ribbon attached to fences, gates and trees. I understand from speaking to a person involved in the farm decontamination programme that all litter was supposed to have been gathered up and burned, as part of the contract requirements.

I am currently trying to seek clarification and confirmation on Martin's story and would welcome any relevant information.

(3) Corruption Writ Large

During the crisis, complaints against MAFF's obduracy were legion. Hardly a day seemed to pass between the end of February and June 2001 when their actions were not pilloried as examples of how to lose friends and alienate people. However, when stress factors become insuperable and the invisible foe assumes juggernaut proportions, rapport between all engulfed in the maelstrom strains to breaking point.

At risk of incurring wrath - and crocodile tears - from those who are about to have their sensibilities offended (yet again), I detect a parallel between the beleaguered MAFF employees and the Soviet Red Army during the epic battle for Stalingrad. Behind the scenes of "Verdun on the Volga" (Alan Clark, 1965), NKVD troops used intimidation, torture and executions to "inspire" their comrades-in-arms. On a far less brutal, but infinitely more subtle level, CAD, operating under the guise of "Special Advisers" to MAFF - with all necessary authority and credentials - were compelling decent public servants to act in a wholly reprehensible manner.

Numerous instances occurred where vets, seconded to MAFF, were coerced into committing actions which were in clear breach of their ethical code. Due to Official Secrets Act enforcement, the full story of how the veterinary profession was defiled may never be told.

A major concern for MAFF was that the disease always seemed to be several steps ahead of eradication efforts which, by mid-April, HAD achieved a modicom of efficiency. Suspicions were growing that some farmers had been deliberately introducing FMD onto their premises in order to take advantage of compensation arrangements (which, as it transpired, were anything but generous). In some cases, MAFF personnel were themselves blamed for contributing towards the spread of infection. Both parties have denied these allegations although the latter have not ruled out inadvertent disease transmission due to lapses in decontamination procedures.

However, sinister rumours were circulating about mysterious figures dressed in overalls seen lurking around farm premises which, at the time, were not at imminent risk from FMD, although the livestock may have been "under observation."

CAD engaging in their slippery craft? Who will EVER know?

A friend informed me of the following. What made this account so appalling was the police's response. Would I be correct in concluding that CAD were the culprits and not even the bastion of justice and the rule of law was safe from their guidance? I leave readers to decide for themselves. Again, locations and the family's name have been altered.

From an unimpeachable source:-

The Bratton family have lived and worked on West End Farm near Inwardleigh, Devon for generations.

One afternoon towards the end of April 2001, 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 door having been left open. There, she saw a severed animal tongue and her main concern was the possibility of contamination: FMD was rife in Central and North Devon.

Mrs. Bratton telephoned the local police station, 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.

The Porton Down Saga: A Study in Hyperbole.

February 2001 saw the official launch of Britain's worst (and avoidable) agricultural disaster in living memory. Within days, conflicting information on the nature of this horror virus, with attendant conspiracy theories, began to circulate.

In many clubs,pubs and other gathering places, lurid stories of biological warfare being waged by environmental extremists in league with Middle-Eastern/Gulf terrorists (mainly from Saddam Hussein's blood-soaked empire - I, for one, will not be shedding any tears when he answers to a higher authority) were rife. The media seemed incapable of reaching any consensus about the aetiology, manifestations and consequences of FMD other than a broad assertion that the virus was a harbinger of doom for the countryside.

An account of a missing FMD Culture test-tube from Porton Down was published in the Sunday Express on 8th April 2001. The article concludes thus: "... an Agriculture Ministry spokesman said the matter was being investigated." This was not the only report of possible biological skulduggery. Former government scientists claimed that FMD had spread due to research work on a vaccine and the virus could only have come from a UK laboratory.

So, during April and May, the notion of either environmental terrorists or rogue ministry officials being responsible for the epidemic became a new conversation topic, especially in those areas affected by FMD. I admit to having been strongly influenced by the Porton Down report but now, there are doubts which cast a different perspective on this story.

I find it incredible that such an article appeared in the first place, given the extreme severity of its content. Even more remarkable was any lack of denial from the MAFF spokesman and that an investigation was taking place. At the time, I expected a furore in the House of Commons but such anticipations were unfulfilled. And yet, still no denials!

With a deadly organism like FMD, the specimen at Porton Down would have been kept under the same security levels which exist at, for example, a nuclear ordnance silo. Any loss of such an item would have resulted in a massive clandestine recovery operation with full reporting restrictions under Official Secrets Act procedures enforced.

As soon as it became clear that the FMD phial could not be accounted for, a national bio-hazard alert, akin to enacting a State of Emergency, would have been declared immediately. Mobilisation of the reserve armed forces, to be deployed at full battalion strength once an infection zone was identified, would have been central to the strategy. It is likely that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for MAFF would have addressed the nation to explain the situation's gravity and protective measures to be implemented.

These assumptions are based on the premise that FMD is comparable with Ebola - which, in purely livestock health terms, IS the case. Formerly, I held the widely-felt view that FMD should have been re-named "Foot-and-Myth Disease." During early Spring 2001, suspicions were being voiced doubting the official line that FMD was so terrible that no alternative existed other than mass slaughter.

Then, on Sunday 8th April, this article conveniently appeared. The hint of alleged security breaches at Porton Down gave credence to the notion that FMD was - and still is - a highly dangerous organism, at the VERY time when this orthodoxy was being challenged.

Small wonder that no "D Notices" were invoked. If they had been, this discourse may never have been written.

I suspect the Sunday Express' journalist was duped into believing that she had revealed a major scoop pointing to the possibility of FMD's presence in the UK prior to February 2001, this being linked to a missing specimen from Porton Down. At the time, was she surprised that no obstacles from the involved government departments were forthcoming? If not, why?

If her account is correct, its revelation would have been to the government's benefit for the following reasons:-

(a) It would have stifled debate about the epidemic's seriousness, especially if the disease's origins may have been linked to nefarious factions within MAFF, DETR and/or MOD.

(b) Rumours about Porton Down were, of course, known to the authorities and represented a challenge to their presumptions of integrity. Media disclosure would bring the issue out into the open, thereby stifling at least some of the innuendo concerning governmental malpractice.

(c) It presented New Labour's oligarchy with the opportunity of allowing this story, along with a host of other conspiracy theories (fuelled by subtle leaks to the media), to become so contorted and exaggerated that eventually, the public would not be able to see clearly through the murk and gradually lose interest.

(d) There were repeated assertions from ministers that FMD was "under control." From viewpoints of those seeking to profiteer from the crisis - mainly certain USA food producers and bio-tech corporations - that may have been the illusion. Had the infection become even more widespread and intractable, convenient scapegoats would have been found, including staff from Porton Down.

I was amongst those hoodwinked into believing that the Sunday Express had exposed a scandal of either criminal recklessness or staggering imbecility. As it transpired, the Chief Veterinary Officer's report on the Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 (DEFRA, 2002) stated that:- "... only the Institute of Animal Health Laboratory and the Merial Biological Laboratory (for vaccine production) at Pirbright are licensed to hold FMD virus - contrary to suggestions that FMD was released or stolen from the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency or the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, Porton Down." (As quoted in the Cumbria Foot & Mouth Disease Inquiry Report, Cumbria County Council, September 2002).

Although I have no grounds to doubt the Sunday Express journalist's integrity, if she and I perchanced to meet, the following questions would be posed to her in this order:-

(a) Were you initially assigned to investigate the Porton Down connection with FMD or did you take the enquiry upon yourself before discussing it with the Sunday Express' editor?

(b) You are morally bound to protect your information sources. With this story, were they people from the government agencies responsible for dealing with the crisis?

(c) If not, what were their connections with FMD?

(d) Did you see any documentation to corroborate your article?

(e) What were these documents? (If answer to (d) is affirmative).

(f) Did you and/or your colleagues encounter any problems from officialdom?

(g) If so, what happened?

(h). The report was printed despite any obstruction. Were any attempts made to either dilute your account or prevent its publication?

(i). Was there any residual ill-feeling, especially from the authorities?

(j). Were you required to sign the Official Secrets Act?

My conclusion: a "red herring" which was intended to be mistaken for a salmon.

There is a curious postlude to the Porton Down saga. The journalist, whose article failed to set ablaze the House of Commons, became an unwilling guest of the Talaban during Autumn 2001. At the time, I wonder how many people connected her name with the Sunday Express article which appeared earlier in the year, on 8th April.

At our hypothetical - yet anxiously-sought - meeting, I would add the following questions, listed in order of asking:-

(k) Upon returning from Afghanistan, were you quizzed by Foreign Office officials - or, for that matter, by anyone else from the government?

(l) If so, what was said?

(m) Were you warned to steer clear of political matters, in future?

(n) During any contact you had with officials, was FMD mentioned?

(o) If so, what was said?

(p) What, if any, suspicions do you have concerning links with the FMD article and your detention by the Talaban?

(q) Were you required to sign the Official Secrets Act?

The question I must NEVER ask: Was she acting on behalf of the government as a purveyor of disinformation in April 2001 and as a Foreign Office "deniable" source during the following autumn?

A Good Time To Bury Bad News.

It is my belief that had the 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. Who knows - maybe the arrogant, smug Secretary of State for DEFRA would have bowed to public pressure and recommended an independent Public Enquiry!

Prior to September 11th 2001, Westminster/Whitehall's efforts to neutralise investigations into its own gross misconduct vis-a-vis FMD were slowly being undermined and would have eventually foundered.

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. Its 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! In my view, Miss J.M. is to be roundly congratulated for her candour. It is the most honest statement to have emerged from government apparatchics since 1997.

However, there is a logical, yet sinister, sequence which can be summarised thus:-

There are preparations afoot to ensure that there WILL be a fully independent Public Enquiry into the FMD Crisis of 2001. Although acting on my own (but with the knowledge and support of others), I am proud to be part of what is, nevertheless, an onerous task. The authorities are aware of my involvement and may be further tempted to interfere with what they perceive to be one of the weaker links in this quest.

They should know that I represent bad news which will NEVER be buried!

Within the next three months, I am expecting harassment from the authorities. Having recently made a formal complaint to the Home Office about the unauthorised entry into my premises on the morning of Thursday 25th October 2001 (for which the evidence, though circumstantial, is compelling), I cannot assume that the lack of response, to date, will continue. Nefarious tactics may be used. For example, illegal items - possibly a quantity of narcotics or pornographic computer software - could be planted, complete with my fingerprints. Time will tell whether I have been suffering from an excessively vivid imagination!

Mark Brook, Weymouth, Dorset. 16th July 2003.

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