Major apologises for the 'agony' of CJD victims

Tory apology
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John Major led Tory apologies for their part in the BSE scandal yesterday, saying victims of vCJD, the human variant of "mad cow" disease, must have must have "suffered an agony of mind and body that we can barely begin to imagine".

John Major led Tory apologies for their part in the BSE scandal yesterday, saying victims of vCJD, the human variant of "mad cow" disease, must have must have "suffered an agony of mind and body that we can barely begin to imagine".

The former prime minister stopped short of actually saying "sorry". He told MPs: "All of us must accept our own responsibilities for shortcomings that were made and the problems that arose from them."

Speaking to an emergency statement on the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) inquiry, he said victims and their families must have had a "dreadful, scarring experience".

BSE had also been "a huge problem" for the beef industry and remained on "the frontiers of our knowledge".

Mr Major, who in 1995 said there was "no scientific evidence" that BSE could be transmitted to humans, insisted officials and ministers criticised in the report had been "most active in challenging BSE". He told Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture: "I'm grateful to you, on behalf of those officials and ministers, for stressing, as the report does, that there are no scapegoats and villains emerging from this report."

Mr Major argued that even though it was "passionately believed" on advice that BSE posed no threat to human life, more than 30 pieces of legislation had been passed to protect against the spread of the disease. He said BSE had been "an appallingly difficult" problem to deal with for the previous and present governments.

Douglas Hogg, who was Minister of Agriculture from 1995 to 1997, said he was "deeply sorry" both for the victims of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) and their families, and the farmers who had suffered "deep loss". He welcomed findings in the report that he had made and implemented the "right" policies when he was minister, which still formed the basis of today's policy.

Judy Mallaber, Labour MP for Amber Valley, was one of several MPs who spoke of constituents who had been victims of vCJD. She said a failure to learn fully all the lessons about removing the "culture of secrecy" would be a "betrayal" of victims' families.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, admitted that mistakes had been made, some of which had tragic consequences: "I accept the criticisms made in the report," he said. Mr Yeo apologised to sufferers and their families, saying: "I am truly sorry for what has happened and I apologise to the families who have suffered bereavement and for those people who are still fighting a terrible illness.

"Our task now is to find ways of minimising and alleviating the suffering and distress of victims of variant CJD and of their families."

Tom Clarke, the Labour MP for Coatbridge and Chryston, said the mother of his late constituent Donnamarie McGivern, who died of vCJD aged 17 last year, welcomed the Government's thinking on compensation and care packages and openness that would benefit future victims. "[The mother] took the view, as I do, that it remains very, very important, in implementing these responses, that families should still continue to be consulted and involved," he said.

Ms Mallaber also welcomed the compensation packages, saying she was glad families would not have to "struggle through the courts" for them.

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