Background Foot and Mouth Assessment

The FMD Assessment, from March 2001

was sent to Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond in August 2007, by a SNP Councillor, to assist with the new outbreak. A background was also requested, in order to understand it’s previous political significance.

In February 2001 at the onset of the FMD outbreak I started modelling the course of the disease and it’s projection. During March 2001 I was becoming concerned that the Governments response was not consistent with my projections.

This coincided with a Newsnight special on the disease. Using this as a basis I sent a report to Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Prime Minister was going to Chequers to decide the date of the general election over the weekend of 31st March/1st April so the report had to be posted to arrive at Downing Street on the morning of Friday 30th March.

At the beginning of the next week I received a letter from 10 Downing Street expressing the PMs thanks for the report. Unusual for Downing Street to send an immediate acknowledgement especially during a time of national crisis and over a weekend when the PM was making the decision over the election.

This then coincided with a change in the Government approach to the outbreak. MAFF Minister Nic Brown could have been quoting from the report from the 2nd April onwards especially if I remember correctly during a visit to Cumbria.

The report was accurate the disease was under control by May and the June election went ahead.

The next year I was invited to a meeting at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House London. I had been involved in producing the UK proposal for the World Summit on Sustainable Development Johannesburg and this meeting was to discuss the post summit UK response. One speaker was the then Environment Minister Michael Meacher. The meeting was well attended, for example I was sitting next to the Canadian Ambassador and his party.

At the reception I was talking to someone who headed up the organisation which disposed of the carcasses in the 2001 epidemic. Naturally he was interested that there was an accurate model of the outbreak sent to the PM at the end of March 2001 and requested a copy.

On returning from London I forwarded a copy. The view was expressed that it was exactly what organisations involved in the outbreak wanted at the time. The information from MAFF was sparse yet the PM and Cabinet Ministers had access to probably the only accurate prediction of the epidemic. The report was filed in the science library of one of the UKs largest, if not largest organisation dealing with the environment. It may now be being read again in the course of this outbreak.

There was a inquiry into the outbreak chaired by Sir Brian Follet. I was not invited to give evidence and as far as I know my report was never submitted either. I assume that this was because my report went through political channels i.e. the Prime Minister and Cabinet and not through civil service e.g. MAFF. Strange as I have been told my report was probably the only accurate one available during March and start of April 2001 and possibly used to brief the MAFF Minister Nick Brown.

As a footnote though it focused on FMD. In the section Land Use Scenarios it discussed the role of flood prevention. As well as modelling the FMD outbreak I was also running projections of flooding in the UK. If I had been invited to give evidence, from the credibility on supplying the correct assessment and projection of the FMD outbreak to the PM, perhaps some attention could have been put on the flood scenarios and their prevention. Which may, given more than 5 years reduced the flooding in Carlisle, Perthshire, Yorkshire and Southern England.

Roger Thomas


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