e. coli findings: Families left no wiser on the cause of poisoning

Douglas Fraser finds little sign of reconciliation in Wishaw with many relatives still seeking answers
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The Independent Online
A note pinned to the Wishaw church where a group of pensioners ate their fatal steak pie lunch last November invites people of all denominations to join "a service of thanksgiving and memorial" later this month.

There was little sign yesterday of reconciliation for some. Paul Santoni, lawyer for many of the bereaved families, attacked the Pennington Inquiry report as a damp squib, claiming it avoided any analysis of what had caused the outbreak on the grounds that such information could prejudice the fatal accident inquiry and any criminal charges.

Mr Santoni said the inquiry team had only done half the job it was given, and what it did say merely repeated previous reports and recommendations.

"Professor Pennington is saying that he is making recommendations on the basis of information that he's not telling us about," Mr Santoni said.

"People want to know what happened to them or to those who died, and those questions are unanswered. The families will be extremely disappointed because the report doesn't deal with the circumstances.

"What is required is a full, open and honest disclosure by all those involved as to the full and complete circumstances giving rise to the outbreak and until that is available those affected by this disaster cannot be expected to have their minds put at rest."

For John Barr, the butcher at the centre of Britain's worst food poisoning outbreak, it is too early to give thanks in church. He is awaiting trial on a charge of recklessly supplying contaminated food to an 18th birthday party. His shop re-opened on 27 February, having been changed to take on board the interim findings of the Pennington Inquiry, with cooked and uncooked meat at different counters and with separate staffing and colour- coded utensils. The business has given up much of the wholesale supply which saw the outbreak spread widely throughout central Scotland.

Mr Barr's Glasgow solicitor, George Moore, said his client welcomed the recommendations as a significant contribution to food safety.

Wishaw's other main butcher, James Chapman, had awaited the report before implementing major change. Shop manager James MacQuade said it is hard to tell if custom was badly affected by the winter food scare. "The meat industry has been taking one knock after another for the past few years," he said. "Before BSE, there was the scare about eating red meat. But people tend to forget what has happened. We're lucky to be still here."

However, some Wishaw residents have changed their habits. Anne Slavin, a housewife, prefers to buy her meat from a local supermarket where it is pre-packed. She has stopped eating red meat and sticks with pre-cooked chicken. "Everybody was frightened of going into the butchers," she said. "Everyone I spoke to stopped eating meat, but people are now going back to what they always did."

Alan Horn, a 23-year-old unemployed man, said he had stopped eating pre-cooked meat after the outbreak as did his family, but they had all gone back to eating some in the past two weeks. "I'm more careful about what I eat now," he said. "I eat more vegetables, and I don't eat pies anymore."

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