Families of CJD victims will receive compensation

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As families of vCJD victims welcomed reports of imminent Government compensation, one of the officials likely to be criticised in Lord Phillips's report on the tainted-beef crisis defended his actions yesterday.

As families of vCJD victims welcomed reports of imminent Government compensation, one of the officials likely to be criticised in Lord Phillips's report on the tainted-beef crisis defended his actions yesterday.

Sir Richard Packer, who was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1993 to 2000, said he had been sent draft criticisms relating to contingency planning in March 1996, but that he did not accept the criticisms. "I have gone into great detail with the inquiry as to why it's mistaken," he said.

David Body, the lawyer representing the families affected so far by the human form of mad cow disease, reacted positively to reports over the weekend that the Government would announce ex gratia compensation when the Phillips report is published on Thursday. Claims on behalf of the families of those who had died could fall within a range of around £75,000 to £250,000, he said.

An even greater priority is securing proper care for those who are suspected to be suffering from the disease, and for future victims. At present, care is provided and funded locally. To ensure consistency of approach and standards, the families' legal team has pushed for a central fund.

The cabinet committee set up to deal with the Phillips report is said to have acknowledged that it would be " morally impossible" to reject claims of compensation and agreed to a no-fault scheme.

The long-awaited report is expected to be critical of more than 30 former Conservative ministers and senior civil servants over a catalogue of blunders. In what has been described as one of the most scathing indictments of a government department by an official report, it is expected to accuse the ministry of a "culture of secrecy" and a "bunker mentality," according to those who have seen the report.

It is also said to predict that the number of people suffering from variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), will increase to more than 100 next year. So far, 73 people have died from the disease.

Among those facing criticism are former ministers John Gummer, John MacGregor, David Maclean, Gillian Shephard and Douglas Hogg. Also in the firing line, it is believed, are Keith Meldrum, the ministry's chief veterinary officer between 1988 and 1997, and Howard Rees, Mr Meldrum's predecessor from 1980 to 1988.

Mr Hogg, who was agriculture minister when the crisis erupted in 1996, has blamed former prime minister John Major and his cabinet colleagues for not taking his warnings about BSE. The Gov- ernment ignored his advise for strong action, he said, to adopt a weaker set of proposals advocated by his ministry.

Lord Phillips's inquiry, set up after Labour came to power in 1997, is not expected to make specific recommendations for Government action, nor findings of legal liability.

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