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“Unprecedented” row delays second phase of BSE inquiry

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 27 February 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:558

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Witnesses at the inquiry into bovine spongiform encephalopathy claim procedures are unfair. Will the Bristol inquiry adopt the same methods, and will witnesses again cry foul? Clare Dyer, legal correspondent, reports

Sparks have been flying behind the scenes at the inquiry into bovine spongiform encephalo-pathy (BSE). The bland press release issued last week by the inquiry announcing that it will not be able to report, as planned, in June 1999 and adding that it needs more time, contains little hint of the backstage drama, beyond a statement by the chairman, Lord Phillips, that “preparing for phase two is proving a more exacting process than we had anticipated, and we are anxious that it should be done fully and fairly.”

The word “unprecedented” has been used to describe the row that has blown up between the inquiry and lawyers representing civil servants from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food and the Department of Health. Strongly worded letters have been exchanged between the lawyers and the inquiry, and judicial review has been threatened.

Phase one of the inquiry, the fact finding exercise, has ended after evidence from more than 300 witnesses was presented over 95 days. Civil servants have objected to the “draft factual accounts” produced on the various issues, and have posted them on the internet with an invitation for corrections to be made. Witnesses claim that these accounts, far from being factual, are “value laden” and prosecutorial, …

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