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Editors unite in fight for foot and mouth public inquiry

Regional papers from across the country are linking up to fight for a full public inquiry into foot and mouth disease.

The Western Morning news is working with The Journal, Newcastle, the Western Mail and trade magazine Farmers Weekly to make its plea to the Government.

And in a scathing attack the Western Morning News this week branded the Prime Minister a coward for shying away from the challenge.

Its editor Barrie Williams went on television the next day to defend his stance.

He told viewers: “Unlike London politicians I have lived among farmers and seen at first hand the horrors and traumas caused by the Government’s foot and mouth policies.”

But Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael told him the newspaper’s attack was “a mistake in terms of journalistic judgment” and “wrong in terms of fact”.

He put another point of view to viewers of the lunchtime bulletin, saying: “It is wrong to brand the Prime Minister as a coward. He has taken the right decisions to enable us to get the full information to get at the facts and that is what people need.”

In the original article Barrie Williams asserted that the Government had finally confirmed what the Westcountry had suspected for weeks.

He said: “It is so scared of public scrutiny over its handling of the foot and mouth disaster that there are no depths to which it is not prepared to stoop in order to evade full and proper accountability.”

He wrote a front page comment piece after Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett ruled out a public inquiry.

Ged Henderson, editor of The Journal, said: “The Journal believes that a public inquiry is the only way to ensure that a major industry never again has to endure what has been witnessed over the last few months.

“This crisis has crippled the north’s rural economy, shattered whole communities and wrecked the lives of thousands of people.”

Western Mail deputy editor Alistair Milburn added: “The news that there will be three inquiries into the crisis is simply the cherry on a cake of Government mismanagement.

“What we need is a single, transparent public inquiry, not a fragmented mish-mash of hearings which will simply confuse and mislead a public and an industry that needs to learn lessons from this disaster.”

The three papers have formed a campaign alliance to launch a petition for a public inquiry, hoping to mobilise public opinion in the areas of Britain most badly affected by the disease.

The Western Morning News headline the previous day asked: “Why are they so afraid of scrutiny?

The Journal told readers: “Why we need a public inquiry”, and the Western Mail: “Why we must have a public inquiry”.

Farmers Weekly also used the whole of the front page with a headline: “Say Yes To A Public Inquiry”.

Horse and Hound, The Yorkshire Post and the Clitheroe Advertiser are also calling for action.

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