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UK Tries To Gag Farmer Blamed For F/M Outbreak
by Nic Outtersid - 14th Jun 2001
Exclusive By Nic Outterside
http://icnewcastle.ic24.com/0100news/6-13-1

GOVERNMENT officials are trying to gag Tyneside farmer Bobby Waugh with the
Official Secrets Act.  The controversial move came after he accused them of
making him the scapegoat for the foot and mouth disease epidemic. But Mr
Waugh says he will not be silenced and his supporters claim the Government is
using Big Brother tactics to cover-up the real cause of the outbreak. A week
ago Mr Waugh revealed that for 100 days since the disease was linked to his
Burnside pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, the Ministry of Agriculture refused
to allow him to clean up the premises. He claimed their blanket refusal had
cost him 24,500 in wages, rent and lost income. Mr Waugh also damned 10
animal welfare charges brought against him by Northumberland Trading
Standards Offices as "wildly inaccurate". Now bosses at MAFF (renamed DEFRA -
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - following the General
Election) say Mr Waugh can only clean up his farm if he signs the Official
Secrets Act. A 12 page Ministry of Agriculture contract, dated June 4 and
leaked to the Chronicle, details the agreement, which could pay Mr Waugh
10,000 in clean-up compensation. But to begin the clean-up procedure - which
almost every other foot and mouth infected farm has been allowed within days
of its animals being culled - Mr Waugh must abide by Clause 17 of the
contract. This states: "The supplier undertakes to abide and procure that his
employees abide by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act 1911 to 1989.
"The supplier shall keep secret and not disclose any information of a
confidential nature obtained by him by reason of the contract, except
information which is in the public domain otherwise than by breach of this
provision". The contract is a lifetime gag on Mr Waugh as it states: "The
provision of this Condition 17 shall apply during the continuance of this
Contract and AFTER ITS TERMINATION howsoever arising." Although this may
still allow Mr Waugh to speak about some aspects of his farm and the foot and
mouth crisis, experience has shown that the Government can take a very wide
view as what is a breach of the Official Secrets Act. The contract could even
prevent him publicly defending the 10 animal welfare charges made by
Northumberland Trading Standards.  In recent examples of the power of the
Official Secrets Act London Student Julie Ann Davies and writer Tony Geraghty
were both arrested in 1999 after what they believed were innocent protests
about what they thought wrong with the Government.  But while gagging Mr
Waugh the OSA clause allows the Government to say what it likes: "The
Minister shall be free to disclose the terms of this Contract and particulars
of the Services as he thinks fit." Mr Waugh is now stuck in a Catch 22
situation.  If he signs the contract and then speaks out about what he claims
is a Government plot to discredit him, he could be imprisoned like a spy or
traitor under the Official Secrets Act.  But, if he refuses to sign it he
will lose the valuable clean up compensation and cannot operate his farm. 
The Government has consistently blamed Burnside Farm as the "likely source"
of the foot and mouth outbreak despite evidence that the disease was present
in UK sheep long before it was identified among Mr Waugh's pigs on February
23.  "None of this makes sense," said Mr Waugh.  "I have been on the phone to
MAFF almost every day since the beginning of March asking when I can clean
out my farm.  "Each time I have either been fobbed off or told permission
cannot be granted for legal reasons.  "Yet within days of me speaking out in
the Chronicle this contract is sent to me.  "They are trying to gag me, but
they will not stop me saying what I believe is the truth."  Mr Waugh is now
taking legal advice on how to procede.  Supporters of the Heddon pig farmer
have reacted angrily to the news of the Official Secrets Act gag.  Animal
geneticist Bruce Jobson, who is writing a book on the foot and mouth
epidemic, entitled "Waughtergate", said: "This is a sinister Big Brother
tactic being used by the Government, because they are afraid that people are
believing their patsy is innocent.  "I have investigated this outbreak from
day one and there is no way Bobby is the source of the infection.  "They have
him over a barrel, because they know he cannot afford not to get his farm
cleaned up."  US scientist Dr Patricia Doyle, who has led a Stateside
campaign to uncover the real cause of the foot and mouth outbreak, said: "The
disease almost certainly started with an accidental release of FMD virus from
vaccine trials, possibly as early as October last year.  "Mr Waugh was not
the best farmer in the world and FMD conveniently found its way to his farm. 
"This stinks of a Government cover-up".  Today a DEFRA spokesman said the
delay in cleaning out Burnside Farm was due to problems in disposing of
60,000 gallons of pig slurry and wash water.  "We had a significant problem
of waste disposal," he said.  The spokesman admitted that use of the Official
Secrets Act on Mr Waugh, may be viewed as heavy handed.  He said: "We accept
that this is an extensive caution, but it is a standard condition which
exists in all our contracts.  "But the farmers are not being gagged."  But
five other farmers contacted by the Chronicle had not received similar
contracts.  Today a spokesman for the National Pig Association, the union
representing Mr Waugh, said they were outraged by the contract and the
inclusion of the Official Secrets Act.  "We have told Mr Waugh not to sign it
and we are going to fight his case for him," he added. An NFU spokesman said
they were not aware of other farmers being forced to sign similar contracts
and said they would investigate the matter further.  Hexham Tory MP Peter
Atkinson said the attempted gagging of Mr Waugh by use of the Official
Secrets Act was "sinister".  "It is also bizarre as the Official Secrets Act
covers very serious stuff so what are the Government afraid of here," he
added.  "It reinforces the feeling that they have sometjing to hide."  Mr
Atkinson said would be tabling a parliamentary question to DEFRA minister
Margaret Beckett demanding to know why Mr Waugh is being asked the sign the
Act.