Ministers head the list of the guilty men

The accused
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The BSE crisis was enhanced by the failures of officials, civil servants and some outside Government to think through the risks and ask obvious questions.

The BSE crisis was enhanced by the failures of officials, civil servants and some outside Government to think through the risks and ask obvious questions.

Four former ministers, whose responsibilities stretched between 1987 and 1997, come in for direct criticism: John MacGregor, who was in charge of Maff from 1987-9; Kenneth Clarke, in charge of the Department of Health from 1988-90; Douglas Hogg, in charge of Maff from 1995-7; and Angela Browning, a junior agriculture minister from 1994-7.

Mr MacGregor and Mr Clarke, who were in post when the Southwood Report - the first big examination of the emerging BSE epidemic - reported should, the Committee says, both have asked why its recommendations were to stop babies eating cattle offals, reckoned to be most infectious parts, yet allowed it for adults. In retrospect it is an obvious question - yet it was also obvious at the time.

When questioned last October during the hearings about the period, Mr Clarke said that he had persuaded the Cabinet to put out the warning about baby food - but grew angry when criticised about the absence of rigour on adult food. "I'm convinced you don't have the faintest understanding of how decision making is done in government," he snapped at the Committee.

Yet it is clear in the breadth of the report that they have found out precisely what was known, and who knew it - and allocate criticism (Lord Phillips is loath to call it blame) where it is due. Thus while Mr MacGregor is commended amidst the critiques for introducing the ban on those infectious "specified bovine offals" (SBOs), he should not have let Maff downplay its importance to human health, the Inquiry says.

Mr Hogg and Mrs Browning were at Maff when the first news of v-CJD filtered out of the CJD Support Unit in Edinburgh to the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac). They both should have noted those warnings and sought meetings with the top civil servants at Maff - notably Keith Meldrum, the Chief Veterinary Officer from 1988-97.

In Parliament yesterday Mr Hogg tried to get Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, to agree that the report commended some of his work; Mr Brown declined, and said afterwards that he had found it difficult not to be rude.

During the BSE crisis Mr Meldrum became something of a hate figure to the media: he took over the job just as the epidemic was starting, and presided as CVO - with responsibilities covering everything that Maff did involving animals and farms - through the announcement of its link to v-CJD.

His first failing was not to ask (as others did not) why the Southwood report would make baby food safer than adult food; if it was risky for one group, why not the other? His knowledge should also have suggested the question of what happened to cows incubating BSE, and whether they could spread the epidemic once they had passed into a slaughterhouse.

Once BSE had been identified as spreading through infected "meat and bone meal" - cattle feed made from dead cattle - he was in charge of a ban on cattle offals being used to make animal feed. That was instituted in 1989, but by 1990 it was clear that a piece of infected feed only the size of a peppercorn could infect a cow - yet Mr Meldrum did not do enough to ask whether factories separated the production lines for cattle feed and other animals' feed.

Also in 1990, the first case of FSE - BSE in a cat - was noted. Mr Meldrum led John Gummer, then agriculture minister, to believe that the two were unconnected. That was wrong, says the Inquiry. The FSE case carried important implications - that BSE might be spreading, and to domestic animals, and notably through food.

Once the ban on SBOs for human and animal food was implemented, it emerged that it was often flouted. Maff had responsibility for making sure that it was observed, and Mr Meldrum should have spotted those problems.

When the awful news of the first cases of v-CJD began to emerge via Seac in January and the beginning of February 1996, he should have tried to get his ministers' attention, and to coordinate action with the Department of Health.

Mr Meldrum's equivalents at the Department of Health - the Chief Medical Officers, Sir Donald Acheson (there from 1983-91) and his successor, Dr (now Sir) Kenneth Calman - come in for harsh words too. Mr Acheson should have queried the Southwood report.

Dr Calman, as he was, said in 1993 and 1995 that beef was safeThe most damning criticism of anyone outside Government is reserved for Colin Maclean, now director-general of the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), which lobbies on behalf of the meat industry. In 1990 he exaggerated the safety of beef, while suggesting that the SBO ban was unnecessary. Then in 1995 he was responsible for an advertising campaign in which "hyperbole replaced accuracy"; he even tried to get a Seac member, Richard Kimberlin, who was also an MLC consultant, to push a list of "model answers" through Seac to ministers. This was, refreshingly, not successful.

Other officials named as the accused are:

* Elizabeth Attridge (MAFF under secretary responsible for Animal Health and Veterinary group 1989-91).

* Richard Carden (MAFF dep secretary, head of food safety directorate from 1994).

* Robert Lowson (head of Maff animal health - disease control - division 1991-93; SEAC secretariat).

* Sir Derek Andrews (MAFF Permanent secretary 1987-93).

* Dr Ailsa Wight (Dept of Health lead on BSE from 1991; SEAC observer).

* Thomas Eddy (MAFF head of animal health (disease control) and SEAC secretariat from 1993).

* Richard Packer (MAFF permanent secretary from 1993).

* M H Baker (Dept of Education and Science schools branch).

* Dr Willliam Watson (director Central Veterinary Laboratory 1986-90; member SEAC from May 1990).

* Dr Bernard Williams (assistant Chief Veterinary Officer, head of Veterinary Investigation Service until 1987).

* William Rees (chief veterinary officer 1980-88).

* Dr Robert Kendell (Chief Medical Officer, Scottish Office 1991-96).

* Dr Richard Kimberlin (TSE researcher, Inst of Animal Health 1962-81 and Neuropathogenesis Unit 1981-8; independent TSE consultant from 1988; SEAC member).

* Ron Jacobs (Dept of Education and Science schools branch).

* Dr Gerald Jones (Department of Health medicines division 1984-9; health aspects of environment and food division 1992-5).

* Dr Hilary Pickles (Dept of Health principal medical officer, lead officer for DoH 1988-91).

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