Pirbright laboratories escape prosecution

Surrey County Council has called for stronger measures to reduce the impact of animal disease outbreaks, after admitting that it cannot take legal action over last year's foot and mouth outbreak.

The council received external legal advice that prosecution against either of the two laboratories at the centre of the outbreak - the Institute of Animal Health or Merial - would not be possible due to a lack of evidence.

Three Government-comissioned reports were unable to pinpoint the exact source of the outbreak and it the council was told that it was unlikely that it would have been able to prove beyond doubt that Defra licence conditions had been breached.

Peter Denard, Surrey County Council's trading standards manager, said: "Because the two laboratories share the same facilities on the site, it hasn't been possible to pinpoint who was responsible for the outbreak. The Government needs to make sure in these circumstances one laboratory is held accountable, and that is what we're calling for now.

The council says that in the future, if two or more laboratories share the same facilities, one should have the ultimate accountability for the safety and security of the whole site and that individual directors should also be held accountable if necessary.

It has also called for tougher fines for a breach of legislation. Current rules allow for a fine of up to £5,000 and/or up to six months imprisonment, but the council argues that this level of fine is totally inadequate when put against the cost to the nation of such an offence

Nick Skellett, leader of Surrey County Council, said: "The foot and mouth outbreak had a disastrous impact on the rural economy last year as well as having a massive effect on the local and national economy and we must make sure we never allow this situation to happen again.

"Because we know all too well the enormity of the impact of the outbreak of the disease, if we had been in a position to take legal action, we would have done so."

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