Labour 'buried report of BSE inquiry'

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Indy Politics

The Government was accused of spreading "the Jo Moore syndrome" after apparently trying to hide details of the disastrous scientific investigation into BSE in sheep by releasing them in a misleading statement late at night.

The Tories called for the resignation of Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, saying she tried to "bury" the news on a government website after newspapers had gone to press.

The statement was also criticised for failing to spell out clearly what was meant by "doubts over the validity" of a scientific sample. For five years, scientists at the Government's Institute for Animal Health in Edinburgh had been analysing cattle brains when they thought they were the brains of sheep.

Peter Ainsworth, shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Government could no longer be trusted to keep the public properly informed about health issues because of its obsession with concealing bad news.

"You would have thought that after the Jo Moore e-mail, lessons about burying bad news might have been learnt. The despicable way in which the publication of the findings was handled confirms that the Jo Moore syndrome is endemic in Whitehall," Mr Ainsworth said.

"The Government should order an independent inquiry into how this shambles occurred, and the findings should be made public," he said.

Officials at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were told about the mistake on Wednesday morning. Mrs Beckett and Elliott Morley, the minister responsible for animal health, were told in the afternoon.

The department said the ministers took the decision to release the news in the evening aftercommittees of experts were informed. A spokesman said: "There was a phone call from the Laboratory of the Government Chemist on Wednesday morning. Ministers were alerted in the afternoon.

"[They] decided they would rather release it in the evening ... The Press Association was alerted at about 9pm. The view was that it was best to release it as soon as possible to avoid accusations of a cover-up."

The way the mistake was revealed will heighten public perception that the Government "manipulates" potentially damaging news events. It follows the e-mail from Stephen Byers' special adviser Jo Moore which said 11 September was a "good day" to "bury" bad news.