BSE scientist was `censored'

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A former government scientist who was one of the first to investigate BSE and identify it in cats claims that his work was "censored" by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), which prevented him from publishing work that would have pointed to the disease's emergence in humans.

Iain McGill worked at the Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) with Gerald Wells, the vet who in 1986 first identified "mad cow disease", or bovine spongiform encepalopathy (BSE).

He says that attempts by him and Mr Wells to submit a paper about the emergence of BSE in cats in 1990 were censored by officials within Maff, who threatened to invoke the Official Secrets Act to prevent them submitting their work to scientific journals.

"I think censorship is the word I would use to describe what happened with that paper," Mr McGill says on tonight's edition of Channel 4's Dispatches programme. "They wanted us to take out any references suggesting a causal link between BSE and the new disease in cats."

In May 1990 he and Mr Wells examined a cat which had died in Bristol. Their immediate reaction was that the cat had died from a disease related to - or even caused by - BSE. They informed their managers of their suspicions.

Days later, the chief veterinary officer, Keith Meldrum, went on TV to discuss the case. But he said the disease was "highly unlikely" to be BSE "because of the precautions that have been taken by various people", though he added he "could not give a guarantee ... what it is".

Mr McGill thinks that Mr Meldrum would have known about their diagnosis. Did he think Mr Meldrum's reply was scientific thinking? "I think it's wishful thinking."

He says that when he worked at Maff, "the way it was structurally set up was not that the science would drive the politics, but that the politics will drive the science. And that's wrong".