The E. coli outbreak came as John M Barr & Son were "on the crest of a wave". The butchers in Wishaw had won the title of Scottish Butcher of the Year just a few months before it was put at the centre of the epidemic. An established firm with more than 30 staff and a loyal group of customers, the shop was forced to close for three months and only reopened at the end of February. There were accusations from some that opening so quickly was insulting to victims and their families, but John Barr was unequivocal yesterday: "I am not happy, but I had to think of the staff," he said. "They have been very depressed about the whole thing and after all they have to make a living too, so I decided to reopen."
Dr Syed Ahmed was a consultant on Public Health Medicine working for the Lanarkshire Health Authority when the epidemic began. An expert on communicable diseases, he was one of the first to be "tipped-off" by the Microbiology Department of Law Hospital that they were dealing "with something big". He was the natural person to chair the Outbreak Control Team, made up of microbiologists, representatives from the public health board, local hospital trusts and the council, and which took immediate responsibility for dealing with the world's second-worst outbreak of E. coli. "It was unfortunately unique," Dr Ahmed said. "The people exposed to the organism were frail and elderly and they were particularly susceptible."
Mary Cairns is now slowly recovering from the effects of the illness, putting back on the two stone she lost, and gradually recovering her strength, with the help of her partner, Ian McFarlane. Her E.coli infection has never been officially confirmed, but many doctors believe it leaves the system after infecting an individual and cannot always be picked up by tests. Mr McFarlane recalled her illness: "She was initially taken to a couple of hospitals before her condition worsened and her kidneys stopped completely ... I knew she was very ill but I didn't realise just how serious it was until doctors took me aside and told me it was her lungs, heart and bowels which were really worrying, and that she could die."Reuse content