Document Directory

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Families who suffered may be paid 100,000
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Getting to the meat
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Government missed warning of Max the cat
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Grieving father condemns Tories as 'a smug and arrogant bunch'
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Man at heart of 27m hearings
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Mysterious mutation unleashed epidemic
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Officials and ministers who faced the crisis
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Public mistrust of safety assurances 'may last decades'
27 Oct 00 - CJD - The 'recipe for disaster' that killed 80 and left a 5bn bill
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Whitehall condemned over BSE
27 Oct 00 - CJD - What they said
27 Oct 00 - CJD - Yesterday in Parliament
26 Oct 00 - CJD - Betrayal of the public
26 Oct 00 - CJD - 'Ministers betrayed us'
26 Oct 00 - CJD - Ministers under fire over BSE
26 Oct 00 - CJD - Video shows Blair human cost of BSE
25 Oct 00 - CJD - Lawyer who made the government pay up

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Families who suffered may be paid 100,000

By George Jones, Political Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

Payments of at least 100,000 could be made to families with a victim of variant CJD under a compensation package announced in the Commons yesterday by Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister.

A new national fund for the victims is being established by the Government. It will provide compensation and help with medical care from the New Year. Mr Brown promised MPs that it would provide "appropriate support for those who are suffering from vCJD, for those who care for them and for the families of those who have already died".

Officials said no details were available on the size of likely compensation payments, as Ministers planned to have discussions with the families of the victims about how it should operate. Mr Brown told MPs the Government's preferred option was to establish a special trust fund "which could amount to millions of pounds".

His remarks were an acknowledgement that the eventual cost could be high, probably running into tens of millions, particularly if the "worst case" scenario of up to 134,000 vCJD victims materialised. The new care fund is likely to be set up on similar lines to an existing scheme to compensate and care for 1,240 haemophiliacs who were infected with Aids by contaminated blood products.

They received an initial lump sum of 20,000. An additional payment of 43,000 went to a single man with no dependants, 52,000 to a married man with no dependent children and 80,000 for an adult with dependent children. Those under 18 received 41,000. A hardship fund was also established for the haemophiliac Aids sufferers. This was able to make payments of up to 600 a week.

The Government intends to make an initial downpayment of 1 million into the care fund for vCJD victims next week, when discussions will be held with the families and their representatives. A major element of the compensation package will be the provision of care and equipment for vCJD sufferers.

A network of experts will be available to support doctors and social services caring for patients. These will include architects and engineers who can modify homes.

Mr Brown paid tribute to the "dignified and constructive" way the families of vCJD victims had campaigned for improved treatment for those who might yet be affected "by this dreadful disease".

The Phillips Report stressed that the victims of vCJD, particularly young people, and their families had special needs and said there were "widely varying standards" of care around the country. Improvements in care it highlighted were:

- As speedy as possible a diagnosis of vCJD;

- Informed and sympathetic advice to relatives about the future course of the disease and the needs of the patient;

- Speedy assistance for those who wished to care for the victim at home. Needs often included aids for the care of the disabled, modification to the home, financial assistance and respite care;

- A co-ordinated care package which addressed the needs of the victims and their families;

- If requested, a suitable institutional environment for a young person, incapacitated and terminally ill.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Getting to the meat

Staff Reporter

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

Lord Phillips's BSE report is in the time-honoured mould of government reports - it may be thorough and exhaustive, but it refuses to point the finger at an individual villain or scapegoat . What blame there is is evenly spread among the chief veterinary officer, the various chief medical officers and ministers who played down the risk of BSE jumping from cattle to people.

The criticisms are not extreme. In all the report's 4,000 pages, no one is accused of lying, no one is accused of major incompetence. Some might claim it is a whitewash or a cover-up, but it is neither - this is one of the few occasions when a "toothless" government report is welcome. For no one deserves to be bitten. Scientific knowledge about BSE, variant CJD (vCJD) and the link between them was and is so limited that it would be wrong to pillory individuals who had so little to go on.

It is now generally believed that it was wrong to give the impression that the disease jump was unlikely: the most likely explanation for vCJD deaths is exposure to BSE. But it remains only a possibility: the report is wrong to say "the link is now clearly established". And in fact new research into the cluster of deaths in Leicestershire suggests that the cause may be nothing to do with beef.

If knowledge is limited even today, then it was still more so before the first vCJD cases emerged. The question at that time was how much public exposure ministers should have given to the minority opinion that a disease jump was a real possibility. In May 1990, John Gummer was told by the chief veterinary officer that the connection between BSE and feline spongiform encephalopathy was unlikely. Mr Gummer had no clear reason not to follow this advice: the chief veterinary officer was chosen for the post because of his experience, and Mr Gummer is no vet.

Given advice along these lines by a series of experts, should ministers have said: "We think it's very unlikely that there is any link, but there is some differing scientific opinion"? For failing to say this, the Government has set aside 16 million in compensation, which, although welcome as an ex gratia payment, sets a worrying precedent. If the Government took this approach in all its affairs, it would spend all its time warning about the risks inherent in every aspect of life. The salmonella-in-eggs debacle was an example of this. The Phillips report criticises government for "a policy of sedation" towards the public; but there is always a danger of a policy scaring the public out of its wits. While it is still unclear whether 77 horrible vCJD deaths are connected with the BSE crisis, other disasters can be directly related to the whole affair, chief among them the extremist ban of beef on the bone and the collapse of the British beef industry.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Government missed warning of Max the cat

By Roger Highfield and David Derbyshire

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

In the space of a few weeks, Max the cat mutated from a much-loved family pet into a BSE bombshell.

The news in 1990 that scientists had diagnosed a BSE-like brain disease in a five-year-old neutered Siamese tom triggered a firefighting exercise at the heart of government.

The Phillips report found that while ministers and officials were assuring the public that there was no relationship between Max and mad cow disease, and that beef was safe, the case should have been recognised as the key indicator that the species barrier could be breached.

Max, who belonged to a Bristol couple, was not the first warning sign . The report reveals that ministers ruled out the possibility that BSE could infect people until the first human victims were diagnosed - even though a decade earlier a nyala antelope had fallen victim to a spongiform brain disease after eating commercial feed .

Lord Phillips's report states that, even today, this family of diseases is baffling. But it says that if earlier action had been taken, the scope of the BSE epidemic would have been reduced. By the time the first case was recognised in 1986, substantial evidence from studies on related diseases, notably scrapie in sheep, pointed to a species barrier preventing transmission between different types of creature.

But the report points out that extensive research had shown that scrapie, CJD and other spongiform encephalopathies could be transmitted to experimental animals by feeding or injection. "Once infection had been established across the species barrier, transmission within the new species was much faster," it says.

Evidence quickly accumulated that BSE could affect a greater range of hosts than scrapie: cattle feed first affected the nyala; then a gemsbok in 1987, followed by an Arabian oryx, greater kudu and eland.

Scrapie had never been transmitted to a carnivore. But then, Max the cat succumbed to a feline form of BSE after eating meat infected with the cattle disease. More cats with FSE were soon discovered. By mid-1998, more than 80 had been affected.

The report concludes that the evidence that variant CJD is caused by BSE is now overwhelming . Both produce an identical disease pattern in mice, and there are molecular features of the prion protein that are identical.

However, the scale of the emerging human epidemic is hard to predict because of uncertainty over many important factors, such as dosage, incubation period and genetic susceptibility.

The report adds that the likely scale "is still uncertain and the subject of much debate", probably ranging from many dozens to 150,000 cases of vCJD. Farmers may be at higher risk of the disease. A simple test to screen the public has yet to be devised .

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Grieving father condemns Tories as 'a smug and arrogant bunch'

By Sam Wallace

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

The father of one of the victims of the human form of BSE described the former Conservative Government yesterday as a "smug and arrogant bunch whose conduct during the inquiry into the affair was grossly insensitive."

John Keleghar, whose son Mark died of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, rejected the apology offered by the Opposition in the Commons yesterday. He said: "The way they conducted themselves, knowing we had lost loved ones, had to be seen to be believed.

"I don't accept the apology from the previous Government. I just wanted someone to stand up and accept responsibility at the inquiry - it is too late now."

Mr Keleghar, whose son, a supermarket deputy manager, died at the age of 23 , said he was impressed by the conduct of Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, and Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, when they met the families yesterday.

The comments came at the end of a day during which families of the victims praised Lord Phillips' report but promised they would watch closely to ensure promises were kept.

Malcolm Tibbert, who lost his wife Margaret to vCJD in January 1996, asked for a minute's silence to be observed. Mr Tibbert, 33, from Eaglesham, near Glasgow, said: "People say time is a healer, but I'm still waiting for the process. What has been achieved here is a testament to our loved ones."

David Body, a solicitor from the Irwin Mitchell company who acted on behalf of the families, said he could not recall such a "level of apology" in the Commons. He said: "It speaks volumes for this Government. They set up this inquiry, they resourced it and gave it a wide remit and waited for it. They have done the right thing with a care and compensation package."

Mr Body said Lord Phillips's report was "a thorough and a proper job" which would stand the test of time. Gerard Callaghan, from Belfast, who lost his brother Maurice to vCJD in November 1995, said he had fulfilled the promise he made to his dying sibling.

He said: "There have been some impressive scenes. We had Government ministers in here. I don't think I have ever heard so many sorrys. There are lots of things we have to ask questions about. The care and compensation package are highly important issues."

Mr Callaghan said that even though the report had avoided blaming individuals the names of some were "burnt on the memories of the families". David Churchill, whose son Stephen, 19, was the first person to die of vCJD in May 1995, added that the care package was one of the "most welcome things to come out".

He said: "There has been woeful disparity in care across the country. If the report makes it certain it will have achieved a great deal. I would never have dreamed of what the Human BSE Organisation has done. To get such a thorough report is a tremendous achievement."

Arthur Beyless, who lost his daughter, Pamela, 24, welcomed the proposal for central funds to be quickly passed on to sufferers. He said: "Their defence was always lack of resources. This has taken that defence away and people will be able to get appropriate care."

Miss Beyless died in September 1998 in Glenfield, Leicester, near the village of Queniborough, which became the focus for national attention when four cases there were confirmed.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Man at heart of 27m hearings

By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

The BSE inquiry was set up as a non-statutory inquiry, which meant it had no power to compel individuals to attend or supply evidence. Despite the lack of formal powers, it received "considerable assistance" from those it wanted to interview.

The final cost could reach 16 million. Adding the cost to Government departments of liaison units and legal support for witnesses would bring the total to 27 million. There were more than 600 witnesses, half of whom gave oral evidence.

The inquiry allowed witnesses to have legal representation. This was not purely for their benefit; lawyers helped the inquiry team by sifting through the documents and presenting relevant material at hearings.

The inquiry chairman, Lord Phillips, followed procedures by sending what are called "Salmon letters" to witnesses facing criticism. A Royal Commission into public inquiries chaired by Lord Justice Salmon had recommended in 1966 that witnesses should be given an opportunity to respond to possible adverse findings before they were published.

The BSE inquiry took so long that Lord Phillips, 62, received two judicial promotions as it continued (Editor's Notes: Bribes?) . On his appointment in January 1998 he was Lord Justice Phillips, a member of the Court of Appeal. By January 1999 he was Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, a law lord.

That month, he was pressed into service when seven law lords were needed to re-hear the Pinochet case after Lord Hoffmann had sat while disqualified. In March Lord Phillips delivered a detailed opinion agreeing that the former dictator could be extradited to Spain.

In June this year he stepped down from the Lords to become Master of the Rolls. However, to give him time to finish writing his BSE report, another judge was asked to act in that capacity. It is only now that the courts are reclaiming one of their most promising judges.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Mysterious mutation unleashed epidemic

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

The BSE report has rewritten the history of the birth of mad cow disease. In doing so it raises worries about whether the first deaths from vCJD resulted from exposure to the tiny amounts of BSE in the Seventies rather than the much larger amounts consumed by the population in the next decade.

Recycling leftover animal protein from carcasses was pivotal in the spreading of the disease throughout the nation's herd but the event that created BSE has changed from contamination by sheep infected with scrapie to a mysterious mutation that struck an animal of unknown species - probably a cow, or even a sheep - three decades ago .

In effect, the Phillips report said the epidemic was due to an unhappy coincidence between an act of God - a mutation in the prion gene that created an abnormal, infectious form of the prion protein - and then the spread of this infectious agent through the cattle population, "fuelled' by the widespread use of rendered protein , a practice that dates back to at least 1926.

Prof Malcolm Ferguson-Smith, a committee member, said the fact that the first human cases may be linked to the small amounts of BSE circulating in the Seventies was "a cause for concern".

The initial theory of the cause of the epidemic, first outlined by John Wilesmith of the Central Veterinary Laboratory, linked it to feeding cattle with meat and bone meal (MBM) that had been derived from sheep infected with the sheep equivalent of BSE, scrapie. It had been thought that the MBM became infectious because rendering methods had changed .

These conclusions were "reasonable but fallacious," said the report, which added that "if BSE was caused by the scrapie agent infecting cattle, it might be concluded that BSE, like scrapie, posed no risk to humans".

But the suggestion by Mr Wilesmith that feed was involved marked a turning point in the effort to fight BSE, said the report. That the 1992 feed ban caused a drastic reduction in BSE was conclusive proof that feed did indeed spread the disease. For this, "great credit is due to Mr Wilesmith".

But the report added that it was unfortunate that his explanation, the scrapie theory, "provided unwarranted reassurance that BSE was likely to behave like scrapie and would thus not be transmissible to humans".

The report backed the widely-accepted idea that the disease was caused by an abnormal form of a protein, called the prion protein, which is insoluble and builds up to kill brain cells. BSE was a novel and more potent disease than scrapie, Lord Phillips said yesterday. But "the origin of the disease will probably never be known with certainty".

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Officials and ministers who faced the crisis

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

Sir Donald Acheson ,Chief Medical Officer 1983-91, was criticised for telling the public in 1990 that beef was safe and no risk to public health.

"The development of a spongiform encephalopathy in a cat had raised a concern that BSE might be transmissible in a way that scrapie was not. Sir Donald was in no position to allay that concern. He avoided addressing it by limiting his statement to the safety of beef.

"He did not explain that he considered beef safe only because parts of the cow that might be infective were being removed from the food chain. His statement was likely to give false reassurance about the possibility that BSE might be transmissible to humans," the report said.

Sir Donald claimed that he had asked one of his officials to conduct a review of the Southwood report on BSE and to look at health risks from vaccines made from cattle serum. The official died before he could give evidence to the inquiry. The report concluded: "Our analysis of the evidence... has satisfied us that Sir Donald's recollection is at fault here." He should have ensured that this review was carried out by his department.

Sir Kenneth Calman ,Chief Medical Officer 1991-98, was criticised for misleading the public in statements in 1993 and 1995 that beef was safe without ensuring that they fairly reflected his appraisal of the risk posed by BSE.

The report said: "By emphasising that it was safe to eat beef [this] carried the inference that transmission of the disease from cow to human was impossible... Dr Calman should have been careful not to make a statement in terms that suggested such a belief, for he considered that there was a real potential for BSE to move from cows to humans."

The report noted pressure from the Ministry of Agriculture to secure a reassuring statement from him. "The evidence suggests that Dr Calman had reservations about complying with Maff's request. Having decided to make a statement, he should have taken greater care to ensure that it fairly reflected his appraisal of the risk posed by BSE."

In January 1995, there was intensive press coverage of Vicky Rimmer, who had fallen ill at the age of 15 with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. She died two years later.

Sir Kenneth issued a statement saying no one knew what the girl was suffering from and saying that, on the basis of work done, "there was no evidence whatsoever that BSE caused CJD and, similarly, not the slightest evidence that eating beef or hamburgers caused CJD". The report said the terms of this statement "were somewhat more emphatic than was desirable".

Colin Maclean , Meat and Livestock Commission 1988-1999, was criticised for issuing misleading information about the risks. This included the text of a video to be released to schools in 1990 that claimed that "it would be necessary to eat an impossible amount of brain and spinal cord in order to be at risk". In fact, scientists established that less than a gram of BSE agent could infect a cow.

John Gummer , Minister of Agriculture 1989-1993, was praised for measures he ordered to tackle BSE and to remove a "culture of secrecy" within Maff. But it pointed out that he had wrongly assumed that the discovery on May 6, 1990, that a cat had died from a brain disease similar to BSE had no connection with the cattle plague.

It also questioned his judgment 10 days later to persuade his four-year-old daughter Cordelia to eat a burger for media cameras. "We understand that Mr Gummer had been challenged by a newspaper to demonstrate his confidence in this way. He was faced with choosing between two unattractive alternatives. It may seem with hindsight that, caught in a 'no win' situation, he chose the wrong option but it is not a matter for which he ought to be criticised," the report said.

Kenneth Clarke , Health Secretary 1988-90, was blamed for failing to ensure a proper review of the implications of the Southwood report, published in February 1989. He told the Phillips inquiry that "there had been a very great deal of copious review, correspondence and discussion about the report... though he could not now remember the details".

Lord Phillips said: "As Secretary of State for Health, Mr Clarke... should have ensured that his department reviewed the report and provided an answer, if there was one. He did not."

John MacGregor , Minister of Agriculture 1987-89, was praised for implementing a ban on the use of specified high-risk cattle offals in 1989. This ban was described as a "vital element in guarding against the risk that BSE posed". But he was criticised for playing down the importance of the ban as a protection for human health.

Douglas Hogg, Minister of Agriculture 1995-97, was criticised for his failure, with others, not to prepare a contingency plan to protect the public in 1996 after learning of the rising number of young people suffering from a BSE-like disease.

He should have recognised the need for talks with the Department of Health on the action required if scientists confirmed that BSE had passed to humans. But the report also noted a range of measures and actions taken by Mr Hogg to tackle the crisis.

Stephen Dorrell , Health Secretary 1995-97, was criticised for insisting beef was safe just months before he told the Commons of the link between BSE and CJD.

The report says it was "regrettable that he gave an assurance in terms more extreme than he could justify". His department was also accused of "inertia" when serious evidence of the numbers of young people affected by vCJD emerged in 1996.

Sir Richard Southwood , Pro-Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, who headed the Southwood working party on BSE, was criticised for not making clearer in his report that BSE could pose a risk to humans. If this message had been stated strongly, more urgent action may have been taken.

Robert Lowson , of Maff, was criticised together with Dr Hilary Pickles , the Department of Health's leading official on BSE in 1988-91, for not alerting the Department of Trade and Industry about the potential risks of passing BSE through cosmetics made from cattle products.

Mr Lowson, together with Keith Meldrum, the former Chief Veterinary Officer, was also criticised for failing to recognise that a voluntary ban on the use of specified high-risk offals in food was "obviously unenforceable".

Keith Meldrum , Chief Veterinary Officer 1988-97, was criticised for misleading Mr Gummer in 1990 that the case of Max the cat was insignificant. It also criticised him for underestimating the risk of cross-contamination with the BSE agent in animal feed mills and for failing to recognise that controls introduced in 1989 to prevent high-risk cattle offals finding their way into the food chain were ineffective for several years.

But the report praised Mr Meldrum as "a man of great industry and enthusiasm" who "placed himself in the firing line so far as risk of criticism was concerned". It added: "His duties were onerous. These are considerations which should temper criticism of his oversight."

The report concluded: "Mr Meldrum impressed us as a particularly dedicated and hard-working civil servant. He was concerned that the livestock industry should not be damaged by a public reaction to BSE for which there was, in his opinion, no scientific justification.

"That is not an approach for which Mr Meldrum can be criticised. On the contrary, we consider that it was a proper approach for the Chief Veterinary Officer to take... When Mr Meldrum had concerns about risks to humans, he acted on them."

Sir Richard Packer , Permanent Secretary of MAFF from 1993-2000, was commended for preventing Prof Sir John Pattison, chairman of the Government's Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee, becoming deeply involved in the Meat and Livestock Commission's 1995 "beef is safe" campaign.

He became concerned that the committee was being drawn into the beef debate in a way that could discredit its reputation. Sir Richard also persuaded Ministers to "read the riot act" to abattoir owners after the discovery in 1995 that many were not observing strict public health controls to keep high-risk offals out of the food chain.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Public mistrust of safety assurances 'may last decades'

By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

It could take decades before the public regains confidence in government pronouncements on food safety, an expert in risk perception said yesterday.

The damage from successive food and farming crises has undermined trust so much that consumers are now automatically suspicious of almost any new food technology .

Dr Ian Langford, a statistician at the University of East Anglia, said the public's perception of risk was far more sophisticated than "nannyish" politicians and civil servants gave them credit for. His view echoed the BSE Inquiry report, which was critical of the way the Government communicated notions of risk to the public.

Chief medical officers, advisory committees, medicines watchdogs and the Meat and Livestock Commission shared the same paternalistic approach, seeing a need to "control the manner" of the release of information. "The approach to communication of risk was shaped by a consuming fear of provoking an irrational public scare," the report said.

A statement to the inquiry from Brian Dickinson, a member of the Food Safety Group at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, summed up the attitude. "You could not give a totally impartial, objective view of the situation," he told the inquiry. "There was a stronger danger of being misinterpreted and we tended to make more reassuring-sounding statements than might ideally have been said."

The report said the Government needed to generate trust. That could only be done through openness and recognition of scientific uncertainty. It also called for the precautionary principle to be enshrined in policy.

That call may be unnecessary. The beef on the bone ban of 1997 was regarded by many as an over-reaction to an incalculably small risk, while the mobile phone safety report earlier this year concluded that although there was no evidence of a health risk, children should avoid using them.

Dr Langford said: "There has been something of a shift towards being more precautionary. But if this isn't part of a paradigm shift in the way industry and the Government deal with risk by involving the public more, I can't see anything that would prevent something like BSE happening again."

27 Oct 00 - CJD - The 'recipe for disaster' that killed 80 and left a 5bn bill

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

In December 1984, cow number 133 fell ill at Pitsham Farm, near Midhurst, West Sussex.

It was unsteady on its legs, suffered from tremors and loss of appetite and displayed erratic behaviour. When it died in 1985 laboratory tests on its brain showed the strange, tell-tale pattern that is the hallmark of BSE.

But the Ministry of Agriculture failed to recognise this , the first known case of mad cow disease, for what it was until nearly two years later, when other cases were cropping up. It was not until November 1986 that the ministry accepted that it had a deadly disease on its hands.

This delay was the first in a catalogue of mistakes that have dogged the battle against the worst animal epidemic and public health scare in British history. BSE has since killed about 179,000 cattle in the UK. Another 4.4 million have been destroyed as a precaution. It has cost the taxpayer more than 5 billion in consumer safeguards, compensation payments and aid to the beef industry.

Worse, it is now officially accepted that it has probably cost the lives of 80 people from a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) and that this toll is rising.

But yesterday, the BSE inquiry blamed failures in tackling the crisis on the collective Whitehall machine and absolved individuals from serious blame. Lord Phillips, Master of the Rolls and inquiry chairman, said: "Any who have come to our report hoping to find villains or scapegoats should go away disappointed."

Ministers and officials followed "an approach whose object was sedation", the report said, but, after initial attempts at secrecy, there was "no attempt to conceal the facts from the public". He said that more "accelerated measures" could have been undertaken to slow the spread of the infection.

He said: "Unknown to everybody the disease was spreading rapidly. There were a thousand infected cattle before anybody realised. There was a case for what you might call a cover-up in the first six months. There was a false impression that humans faced no risk. If action could have been taken earlier then scope for infection could have been reduced."

But despite its broad-brush approach the report does contain sharp criticisms of former ministers and senior civil servants . "In the years up to March 1996 most of those responsible for responding to the challenge posed by BSE emerge with credit. However, there are shortcomings about the way things were done," the report said.

It concluded that BSE was caused by the practice of re-cycling animal remains in food rations for livestock - a "recipe for disaster" that dated back to 1926.

While the origin of BSE would probably never be known, it believed that a deadly agent, possibly a mutant organism from a cow that had been recycled for animal food, sparked the epidemic when its remains were processed for cattle food. This dismissed the theory that BSE was scrapie, a similar disease of sheep, that had passed into cattle.

What went wrong, it said, was that no one foresaw the possible entry of a lethal agent far more virulent than any conventional pathogen or virus. The animal rendering industry was not to blame because there were simply no processes that could kill this agent.

While ministry experts quickly identified how the disease was spreading and took action to halt the flow of contaminated feed, they underestimated the number of animals already infected. There was also a failure to realise that very small doses of infected material could cause BSE and that this posed a serious health risk from mechanically recovered meat .

Lord Phillips pointed to failures in abattoirs to remove dangerous material from carcasses and failures at feed mills to filter out contaminated material. There was also a "lack of urgency" to protect the public from possible risk from cosmetics and medicines made from cattle material. There were delays in protecting people in high-risk occupations, including vets, abattoir operators and undertakers.

Co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Health was "not always adequate". A list of failings led to delays in implementing key safeguards. The report called for:

- A fast diagnosis test for victims of vCJD

- Speedy financial assistance for those caring for victims at home

- Informed and sympathetic advice for families of victims

- A co-ordinated care package for victims and families

- Suitable institutional facilities for terminally ill and incapacitated victims of vCJD. In the past some have been put in mental hospitals

To tackle any future new animal epidemics, the report also called for new powers under UK and European law to enable animals to be destroyed "on the mere probability" that the disease could be passed to humans.

The report went on to propose a review of medicine and consumer protection law to give the Government more power to act swiftly to ban any substances or processes that might pose a threat to human health.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Whitehall condemned over BSE

By David Brown and George Jones

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

A damning indictment of the system of government that kept the public in the dark about the country's worst human and animal health crisis was delivered yesterday by the BSE inquiry.

The obsession with preventing panic led to long delays in protecting consumers and the farming industry from the disease. "Officials and ministers followed an approach whose object was sedation," the report said.

But Lord Phillips, Master of the Rolls, who headed the 27 million inquiry established by the Labour Government for more than two and a half years, said there were "no individual villains or scapegoats" among the former Tory ministers, scientists and senior civil servants in the report.

While individuals were criticised in the 16 volumes of the report, the vast weight of censure fell on the tortuous workings of the Whitehall machine. The report also gave official recognition that BSE, which has led to the destruction of millions of cattle and cost the taxpayer 5 billion, caused new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

Eighty young people have died of the disease, five are terminally ill and no one knows how many more cases will follow. Families of the victims are in line for payouts of at least 100,000 as well as help caring for those suffering from the disease under new measures announced by the Government yesterday.

Government officials said that on the "worst case" scenario the number of victims could be as high as 134,000 . The report was presented to a sombre House of Commons by Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, who described BSE as a "national tragedy".

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, made a public apology for the shortcomings of Conservative governments in the late 1980s and 1990s revealed in the report. He said: "I am truly sorry for what has happened and I apologise to the families who have suffered bereavement and those who are still fighting this terrible illness."

John Major, who was Prime Minister at the height of the BSE crisis, told the Commons: "All of us must accept our responsibilities for shortcomings."

But the report, drawn up by Lord Phillips, was less critical of individual Conservative ministers and civil servants than advance briefings had suggested. He said: "Those hoping to find villains or scapegoats should go away disappointed."

Instead it put the main blame on a culture of secrecy within the Agriculture Ministry, poor communications between Government departments, bureaucratic delays in responding to scientific warnings, and a over-riding desire to avoid a health scare.

"The Government did not lie to the public about BSE. It believed that the risks posed to humans were remote. The Government was preoccupied with preventing an alarmist over-reaction to BSE. It is now clear that this campaign of reassurance was a mistake," the report said.

But it acknowledged that when, in March 1996, the Government announced that BSE had probably been transmitted to humans, the public felt they had been betrayed. "Confidence in government pronouncements about risk was a further casualty of BSE."

The shortcomings by officials were not the product of "indolence" - but for the most part were mistakes made under the pressure of work. Some who were criticised were also praised elsewhere in the report.

Lord Phillips said: "I don't think we have pulled our punches and I don't believe this report is a whitewash." He did not believe that earlier action by the Government could have prevented the epidemic. Thousands of cattle had already beeninfected by the disease by the time it had been identified by scientists.

Lord Phillips said: "Unknown to anybody, the disease was spreading very widely, like a chain letter, before it was identified. By this time there were already thousands and thousands of cattle infected and nobody realised this - and at the same time people were eating cattle."

But, after initial delays in informing the public of the disease, there was "no attempt to conceal the facts from the public", he said. However, successive ministers, including John Gummer, Douglas Hogg, his successor at the Agriculture Ministry, and Stephen Dorrell, the former Health Secretary, were criticised for playing down the risk of BSE-infected beef contaminating humans.

There was anger among the families at the behaviour of ministers and officials in the former Tory Government. John Keleghar, who lost his 23-year-old son Mark in May 1999, said he could not accept the apologies made by former ministers.

Mr Keleghar said: "The people from the Conservative Government only apologised today because they felt they had to. The reason they didn't apologise before was because that would have been an admission."

Mr Brown did not seek to score political points. He focused on failures in the system of government, promising that Labour would be more open, publishing scientific advice on the internet and ensuring more co-operation between departments. He said there would be a review of whether any serving civil servant should face disciplinary action.

Even now, Mr Brown said, it was not clear how the disease entered the national herd, or why Britain had been so badly affected. He would be commissioning an independent assessment of scientific understanding, including recent findings on the origins of the epidemic.

Keith Meldrum, the former chief veterinary officer who was expected to face strong criticism, said last night he was "very pleased" with its findings. It described him as "a particularly dedicated and hard working civil servant" who put public safety before the interests of the livestock industry. He expressed "deepest sympathy" for the relatives of vCJD victims.

Prof Sir John Krebs, the chairman of the Food Standards Agency, gave a pledge that "never again will vital information be withheld from the public".

27 Oct 00 - CJD - What they said

Staff Reporter

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

What was said at the time

"We cannot answer the question: Is BSE transmissible to humans?" Ray Bradley, former head of pathology at the Ministry of Agriculture in a memo written in July, 1988.

"British meat is absolutely healthy. I've not changed my eating habits." Keith Meldrum, Chief Veterinary Officer, 1990.

"British beef can be eaten safely by everyone, both adults and children, including patients in hospital," Sir Donald Acheson, Chief Medical Officer, May 1990.

"It is quite clear to me our beef is safe. My own family eats beef and I have no worry about that. There is no evidence anywhere in the world of BSE passing from animals to humans." John Gummer, Agriculture Minister, Jan 1990.

"I wish to emphasise that there is no scientific evidence of a causal link between BSE in cattle and CJD in humans." Kenneth Calman, Chief Medical Officer, 1993.

What the inquiry was told

"In ordinary usage, safe does not necessarily mean 'no risk,'" - Sir Kenneth Calman, Chief Medical Officer from 1991-98.

"I should not have done that. It was several years after the events that I became aware that for some people the word 'safe' without qualification means zero risk." - Sir Donald Acheson, Chief Medical Officer from 1983 to 91, explaining his public statement in May, 1990

"It would have been the equivalent of planning for a disaster." Keith Meldrum, the Government's Chief Veterinary Officer, on the absence of any Government contingency plans to protect the public in the event of BSE spreading to humans.

"We were almost completely dependent on scientists and the latter were themselves operating on the basis of continuing research at the then frontiers of scientific knowledge." - Lady Thatcher

"She looked at you as though you were the devil incarnate. Her eyes filled with fear...Why did it happen to my daughter? I ask that question every day." - Roger Tomkins, from Tonbridge, Kent, whose daughter Clare, 24, died from vCJD in 1998.

27 Oct 00 - CJD - Yesterday in Parliament

By Michael Kallenbach, Parliamentary Correspondent

Telegraph ... Friday 27 October 2000

The Government won broad praise yesterday for its swift reaction to the Phillips inquiry into BSE and the news that a national fund for the victims of CJD is to be established.

Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, said: "The new national care fund will be used to purchase care and equipment appropriate to the individual needs of variant CJD patients." He praised the families who had successfully campaigned for better care and said their response had been dignified and constructive.

In addition, he promised that compensation, which could amount to millions of pounds, would be provided for those who care for CJD victims and for the families of those who have died. He said the 4,000-page report needed to be carefully studied but he promised a full Government debate as soon as possible.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, called the report clear, comprehensive and fair. While it was always easier to be wise with the benefit of hindsight, he admitted that mistakes had been made and said: "I accept the criticisms made in the report."

He supported Mr Brown's sentiments, particularly concerning financial compensation, and said: "Our task now is to find ways of minimising and alleviating the suffering and distress of victims of variant CJD and their families." He wanted to know whether lessons could be learnt about how relations between Whitehall departments could be improved, and suggested that scientific advice given to ministers in future be made public.

John Major, the former prime minister, praised the Government for setting up the Phillips inquiry and called the report impressive and objective. He said: "The victims must have suffered an agony of mind and body that we can barely begin to imagine."

Tom Clarke (Lab, Coatbridge and Chryston) said the mother of his late constituent Donnamarie McGivern, who died of CJD aged 17 last year, welcomed the Government's plans for compensation and care packages and said its openness would benefit future victims. Judy Mallaber (Lab, Amber Valley) one of several MPs who spoke about constituents who had been victims of CJD, said that a failure to learn fully all the lessons about removing the secrecy would be a betrayal of victims' families.

Despite the chorus of praise, Colin Breed, the Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman, criticised the way the entire BSE crisis was handled. "It is a sorry saga of complacency in the early years, incompetence when risks were emerging and complicity when things started to go wrong. I believe it portrays a culture of Whitehall secrecy, inter-departmental failure to communicate and, when combined with party political expediency, results in a betrayal of the public and of its interests."

Michael Jack, (C, Fylde) urged the Government to encourage other European countries to hold a full debate of the lessons to be learned from the report. Malcolm Bruce (Lib Dem, Gordon) said the consequences of withholding information about BSE had been devastating. He hoped that the Government was prepared for a large rise in cases in the future.

Later, in the Lords, Lady Trumpington said she regretted media criticisms of her former Tory colleagues at the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, John MacGregor and John Gummer. "Politicians are not scientists. All they do is repeat the best information they can get, from the best available sources," she said.

Lady Hayman, an Agriculture Minister, admitted that the situation was very difficult and unclear and said there was no accusation of dishonourable conduct. "The Government was preoccupied with preventing an over-alarmist reaction to BSE... it is now clear this campaign of reassurance was a mistake."

Earl Ferrers, a former Tory deputy leader of the Lords, told the House that he had had BSE-infected cows. However, he pointed out that deaths from BSE - 86 over 10 years - amounted to eight deaths a year. That compared with 3,000 deaths per year from motor accidents and 30,000 from lung cancer.

"The awful thing is that we all have to die some time and we don't look forward to it. But is the Government right to offer compensation to one sector of people who have died?"

Quote of the day

"I give a pledge that this report will not gather dust" Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, on the 16-volume 4,000-page BSE inquiry

26 Oct 00 - CJD - Betrayal of the public

by Charles Reiss, Political Editor

Evening Standard ... Thursday 26 October 2000

The catastrophe of BSE and the spread of fatal disease to humans marked a comprehensive failure by government and Whitehall which left the British public feeling "betrayed ".

That is the verdict this afternoon of the long-awaited official report into the birth and spread of mad cow disease and its human counter-part, variant CJD.

The massive report from a team headed by Lord Phillips, the Master of the Rolls, delivers a damning catalogue of the consequences.

It says: "BSE has caused a harrowing fatal disease for humans . As we sign this report, the number of people dead and thought to be dying stands at over 80 , most of them young. They and their families have suffered terribly. Families all over the UK have been left wondering whether the same fate awaits them. A vital industry has been dealt a body blow, inflicting misery on tens of thousands for whom livestock farming is their way of life."

Although a succession of former ministers and senior civil servants are unsparingly criticised , the report lays the main blame for the start of the problem squarely at the door of the farming community .

BSE, it says, developed into an epidemic as a consequence of an intensive farming practice - the recycling of animal protein in cattle feed. And it goes on: "This practice, unchallenged over decades, proved a recipe for disaster." The main offence of ministers was to play down the menace to humans when the possibility that the disease could spread became apparent.

The government "did not lie to the public," the report finds. But it says that ministers were concentrating on preventing an "alarmist" over-reaction to mad cow disease because they believed the risks to humans were remote.

"It is now clear that this campaign of reassurance was a mistake ," the report concludes. "When on 20 March 1996, the government announced that BSE had probably been transmitted to humans, the public felt that they had been betrayed."

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, in a Commons statement this afternoon, is promising compensation to the families of the 84 vCJD victims and pledging better care arrangements for future sufferers.

He is also set to announce a large-scale review of the way health hazards are dealt with by government and Whitehall to meet the "hard lessons" to be learned from the BSE disaster.

The report, two-and-a-half years in the making, runs to a massive 16 volumes. Ministers from the John Major years involved and named in the report were invited to the Agriculture Ministry this morning, before publication, to be told its verdict on their individual performance.

Former farms minister Douglas Hogg was unrepentant as he arrived, saying that although errors had been made, "I think the policy decisions I made were the right ones.. I think I got it about right."

In a surprise finding, the report clears the Agriculture Ministry of the charge that it was protecting farmers at the expense of grave risk to the public. In dealing with BSE, it says: "It was not MAFF's policy to lean in favour of the agricultural producers to the detriment of the consumer".Other criticism, though, is heavy:

showed "a lack of rigour " in considering how policies to counter the spread of the disease should be turned into practical action.

tape resulted in "unacceptable delay "... and, while the government brought in measures to guard against the possibility that mad cow disease might be a matter of life and death "the possibility of a risk to humans was not communicated to the public or to those whose job it was to implement and enforce the precautionary measures"

26 Oct 00 - CJD - 'Ministers betrayed us'

by Zoe Morris, Health Reporter

Evening Standard ... Thursday 26 October 2000

The father of a vegetarian who died from CJD has called for the criminal prosecution of ministers responsible for the crisis.

Roger Tomkins - whose daughter Clare died from the disease in April 1998 - said: "The relevant authorities should be looking at the inquiry and seeing if any unlawful acts have taken place.

"If they did occur, the authorities should look at prosecutions . The ministers are responsible and should be accountable."

Mr Tomkins, 54, added: "We - the public - put our trust in politicians and civil servants and regulators of the industry. We trusted them to protect our health and we have been let down. Our trust was betrayed to save money.

"Decisions were made which weren't in the best interests of public health. They were made on the basis of expediency and commercial interests . Cattle were being fed ground-up, scrapie-infected sheep.

That meant you were feeding a vegetarian animal that should be out feeding on the cud something unnatural. It was purely for commercial gain. Over a large period of time decisions were made to increase the yield and make cows bigger and more productive."

He said: "It was never anybody's intention to infect the cattle, but people who took the risk are to blame. When you or I go into a shop or restaurant we don't expect to be given diseased food ."

Mr Tomkins, who moved from Kent to Norfolk after his daughter's death, was the first relative of a victim to describe to the inquiry the effects of the debilitating disease.

He told how Clare howled like an animal and hallucinated as the effects of the disease took hold in the last weeks of her life. "She looked at you as though you were the devil incarnate. Her eyes were filled with fear."

Clare, of East Peckham near Tonbridge, was 24 when she died on 22 April 1998. She had been a strict vegetarian since 1985, but is believed to have contracted new variant CJD in the early Eighties, when she regularly ate hamburgers. Her mother, Dawn, 54, died from cancer only weeks after Clare.

Mr Tomkins added: "This was such a terrible tragedy that my family will never recover from it. I asked Tim Yeo, the former Tory Agriculture Minister, this morning directly for an apology, which wasn't forthcoming. It is the very minimum we should get from the people responsible."

He welcomed moves to boost healthcare for CJD sufferers as well as plans to compensate victims' families. "I am delighted the Government appears to be taking this line. It's good news for me and for the families of other youngsters who have died from this dreadful disease," he said.

"But no amount of money could ever replace my lovely daughter. Nothing will bring her back. "

For Margaret Ammon, 65, the pain of watching a loved one die agonisingly was repeated within four years, as her sisters Joan Stapleton and Elizabeth Bottle both contracted the disease. Mrs Ammon had to watch as Joan suffered for 61 days with CJD. Four years later her other sister Elizabeth suffered an even slower and agonising death.

She said: "Betty was ill for about 18 months. In the end she was not capable of doing anything. I am still gradually getting over watching my sisters die in such a terrible way."

Mrs Ammon added: "If someone in Government had first-hand experience of the condition, maybe something would have been done sooner."

26 Oct 00 - CJD - Ministers under fire over BSE

by Charles Reiss, Political Editor

Evening Standard ... Thursday 26 October 2000

Ministers and civil servants were guilty of repeatedly misleading the public about the threat to human health posed by mad cow disease, the official BSE inquiry report said today.

An over-riding desire to avoid a health scare , poor communication between Government departments and unacceptable, bureaucratic delays in responding to scientific warnings about the risks were highlighted by Lord Phillips's long-awaited report.

But the report stressed there was no deliberate intention to deceive or protect farming interests at the expense of consumers.

And individual politicians such as the former Agriculture minister John Gummer, who was expected to be heavily criticised in the report, escaped severe censure.

However, successive ministers, including Mr Gummer , former agriculture minister Douglas Hogg and former health secretary Stephen Dorrell were criticised for playing down the risk of BSE-infected beef contaminating humans.

According to latest figures, 77 people have died from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human form of BSE.

A further seven people are still suffering from the killer disease, which causes progressive dementia, lack of co-ordination and other symptoms - and is described in the report as a "tragic horror" .

BSE was first identified as a new cattle disease in 1986 and a ban on brain, spinal and other high-risk beef offal being used in human food was introduced in 1989.

The report identified a "bombshell" that occurred in May 1990 when scientists at Bristol University found a BSE-like disease in a cat.

The discovery raised concerns that BSE was transmissible and could potentially infect humans.

Yet in the same year , Mr Gummer insisted beef was safe to eat, famously trying to feed his four-year-old daughter Cordelia a beefburger.

It was not until March 1996 that Mr Dorrell announced to the House of Commons that a new strain of CJD had emerged, which was probably linked to consumption of infected beef.

The report said that the cat discovery led scientists to take the threat posed to humans much more seriously.

But this was not adequately communicated to the public.

The report said: "The public were never told that scientists' appraisal of that risk had changed .

"On each occasion that public concerns were raised about BSE, they met with the same refrains - 'there is no evidence that BSE is transmissible to humans - it is safe to eat beef '.

"Risk communication in relation to BSE was flawed."

As the report was made public, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown announced that a new national fund for the care of victims of variant CJD will be established.

There will also be an enhanced care package said Mr Brown, adding: "This dreadful disease has a devastating effect on victims and their families."

He told MPs in the House of Commons he would outline a package of measures for the benefit of people suffering from variant CJD.

Mr Brown said the key conclusion from the report was that recycling animal protein in ruminant feed had "proved a recipe for disaster".

Mr Brown said the report had found the government at the time was preoccupied with preventing an alarmist over-reaction to BSE and their campaign of reassurance was a mistake.

The minister said Health Secretary Alan Milburn will be commissioning an independent assessment of current scientific understanding of the origins of the BSE epidemic.

26 Oct 00 - CJD - Video shows Blair human cost of BSE

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 26 October 2000

A report on the 27 million public inquiry into the BSE crisis will be published today, but it was a 10-minute home video which hammered home the human cost to Tony Blair.

Victims of the fatal human form of BSE won sympathy from the Prime Minister after he watched the film, which showed the suffering of a teenage girl who died of the disease. "No one who has seen the video could fail to be moved by it," the Prime Minister told her relatives. The Government has signalled that it is considering a multi-million-pound compensation package for victims and their families.

About 84 victims of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which has been linked to BSE in cattle, have been identified. Senior politicians and civil servants are expected to face criticism in the report for their handling of the affair, which is estimated to have cost the taxpayer more than 5 billion in aid and compensation payments to the beef industry over the past three years alone.

The 16-volume report will also focus on Government failures to enforce abattoir controls which were designed to ensure that any potentially BSE-infected beef was removed from the food chain. The farming industry is estimated to have lost more than 3 billion in lost beef exports and a slump in the value of cattle. Extra meat hygiene costs have also cost farmers an extra 350 million over the past three years.

But it was the film of Donnamarie McGivern, lying limp and motionless, with tubes attached to her body , in her home at Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, in October 1998 - one year after falling ill - which was said last night to have emphasised the impact of the vCJD tragedy to the Government. The video had been shown privately to Lord Phillips, who conducted the two and a half year inquiry, and a senior civil servant, who was said to have been moved by it.

The youngster had been a keen athlete at school. She is seen in the video, bedbound, virtually blind and wearing an oxygen mask . Propped up by soft toys and surrounded by pictures of her favourite pop stars, she is heard to groan as she is lifted from a chair to her bed. Her mother, Marie, a school cleaner, and father, James, a lorry driver, both gave up their jobs to provide 24-hour care.

The video was filmed by Donnamarie's aunt, Tina O'Keefe, a former nurse. She said:"I sent a copy to Tony Blair because he is a father and is from the same generation as me. I asked him to set up a centrally-funded care package to help families like my sister's."

David Body, of the law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is acting for victims' families, said of the video: "It is a very powerful piece of evidence." Donnamarie became ill in 1997 when she was 14. She died two years and eight months later, aged 17. The families of victims said they hoped today's report would highlight the need for a comprehensive care package.

Arthur Beyless, 53, a milkman from Leicester, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Pamela to the disease in 1998, said sufferers would benefit from a "flying squad" of experts who could make recommendations soon after diagnosis.

Mr Beyless said: "We need a trained team that can respond very quickly - with bureaucracy it doesn't happen. You need someone familiar with the disease who has clout. People must have authority but I don't think the Department of Health want to relinquish control."

When their daughter was found to have vCJD in April 1997, 18 months before she died, the Beyless family discovered that their local social services and health authority were in disagreement over the provision of care .

The British population was probably exposed to BSE as long ago as the Seventies , according to a report by the EU Scientific Steering Committee.

25 Oct 00 - CJD - Lawyer who made the government pay up

by Emily Green

Evening Standard ... Wednesday 25 October 2000

"Everybody hates a lawyer," admits solicitor David Body, "until they need one." Tomorrow, with the publication of the report of a two-andhalf-year inquiry into BSE - "mad cow disease" - much attention will focus on the 83 people who desperately need legal help after falling victim to the human form of the illness, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or nvCJD.

The Cabinet has leaked its intention to compensate victims' families. The initial cost, estimated at some 16million, could eventually run into billions if the worst fears of the disease's progress are fulfilled.

To some, the notion that the Government should be financially liable for the excesses of an industry which it regulates is absurd. But to Mr Body, 45, who represents the families, the decision is just.

"Who else was in a position to do anything about BSE but the Government?" he said. "Government spent eight years offering reassurances. Those reassurances affected consumers."

The Government, he added, has already spent more than 4billion on compensating farmers, culling and veterinary services, but has failed to pay so much as a penny in compensation to human victims . If compensation had not been forthcoming, Mr Body would have sued the Government. And it seems the Government thinks he would have won. The offer now amounts to a white flag in a long war of nerves in which the Sheffield-based solicitor has systematically outmanoeuvred successive Tory and Labour Cabinets.

He first became involved with nvCJD in summer 1996 when the parents of the first victim, 19-year-old Stephen Churchill, decided they needed a lawyer. "They'd read about what I was doing with the growth hormone families," Mr Body recalled. In the hormone case, he represented more than 30 families of yet another distinct pool of CJD victims in a suit against the Department of Health. Their deaths had been caused by a different strain of CJD emanating not from cattle, but from humans. It had been spread by contaminated human growth hormone. The drug had been extracted from human pituitary glands harvested in public mortuaries.

Some of the donors had died of CJD and the processing of the drug did not destroy the infectious agent. The impure drug was then supplied for injection into children suffering from dwarfism as part of an experimental, government-sponsored trial from the late Fifties until 1985.

After six years' research, Mr Body had what he needed in July 1996: proof that midway through the hormone trial, the drug had continued to be dispensed even though government had been warned by one of its own scientists that doing so might spread CJD. He won the case, the first such civil damages victory against the Department of Health. Since then, his clients have received more than 6million compensation in total.

Today, he represents the families of 73 out of the 83 British victims of BSE-related nvCJD. This time the burden of proof is far more complex. He would have to make a case that no single act of negligence, but a culture of complacency within government - particularly within the Ministry of Agriculture - was responsible for allowing BSE to pass from cattle to humans.

As Mr Body signed up the first nvCJD victims as clients in 1996, he did not rush to court. Rather, he and members of his firm attended inquests, achieving verdicts of misadventure. He then used the verdicts to pressure the Government to call a public inquiry into BSE. He pointed to the cost and scandal created by the human growth hormone trial, insisting that those families, too, would have preferred a public inquiry to a civil suit, but that the Tory Government had turned them down.

When Labour came to power in spring 1997, it initially resisted Mr Body's suggestion of an inquiry. Instead it unveiled plans for a new Food Standards Agency. But he kept bobbing up at FSA meetings, reminding reformers of the plight of the nvCJD victims. He lobbied agriculture and health ministers. By that autumn, he and the families had been joined in the call for an inquiry by the British Association of the Advancement of Science, the Transport and General Workers Union, and the former chairman of SEAC, the government advisory body on BSE. Even former Tory agriculture minister Douglas Hogg backed the idea, saying it would vindicate Conservative handling of BSE. By Christmas 1997, Tony Blair reluctantly conceded. But as the inquiry began in early 1998, the lawyer who had argued for it began to file suit for his clients anyway. He insists he had to. On 23 May 1995, Stephen Churchill died. "The Limitation Act 1990 gives you three years to bring claims from the date of death," said Mr Body. He stresses, though, that all claims have been stayed by mutual agreement until after the inquiry reports.

Enjoying what amounted to an armed truce with the Government, Mr Body then watched as the inquiry conducted what has amounted to the most exhaustive scrutiny of the UK's public health and agriculture agencies this century. It has amassed such a weight of evidence that the floors of its south-London HQ in "Hercules House" had to be evaluated by structural engineers. For David Body's purposes, the great fact-finding phase would conclude one of two ways. The inquiry would recommend compensation for his clients, or its evidence would serve as 27 million worth of free discovery - evidence with which he would then sue the Government.

It will not be clear until publication of the inquiry's 16-volume report tomorrow whether the truth includes the kind of pivotal evidence of negligence Mr Body would need to win a human growth hormone-style victory for the BSE victims in court.

However, the Cabinet, which has had advance copies of the report for three weeks, clearly does think that the inquiry produced sufficient evidence for Mr Body to win. While its line is that it feels morally obligated - if not legally bound - to compensate the families, it only succumbed to this case of morals after ministers received the inquiry report.

At the end of a long stalking game, a man whose profession is reviled by some as "ambulance chasing" will have pushed the Government into the radical and dangerously modern position of accepting legal responsibility for the truthfulness of the advice that it gave to its citizens.