Call the cops! There’s been dirty work at the crossroads. Something nasty has been spotted in the woodshed.
In its Initial report on potential breaches to biosecurity at the Pirbright site, 2007 the Health and Safety Executive “confirms” Pirbright as the source of the FMD virus. As reported here on Saturday. You would have to be very dense not to have figured this out already.
Wind and water are unlikely vectors, says HSE. The great flood theory advanced by the glamorous chief vet is a problem because, er, the water flows away from the farms and towards Pirbright. And the air filters seemed to be working. Not that everything looked honky-dory, if you read between the lines. It seems Defra is responsible for regulating the FMD virus whereas the HSE is responsible for other oversight, so here are two new questions: (1) how are/were these responsibilities co-ordinated, or were they, and (2) how and who at Defra was discharging this responsibility? If this person exists, their reports must be disclosed. I suspect the buck here actually stops at the desk of the glamorous chief vet. Here is another lovely picture of her:
So, the suspect vector is human. Acting either negligently or criminally. A specific human, as I proposed two days ago? There is “chatter” that laboratory people may have had a number of improper contacts and have violated employment contracts prohibiting these. But that there is one Prime Suspect. “Presentational” management of the HSE ensures we have a document to deconstruct that has been deliberately designed by the government’s finest spin doctors to be as opaque and non-committal as possible.
There are various potential routes for accidental or deliberate transfer of material from the site, says HSE. As a statement of the blindingly obvious, this is a classic. And then this fascinating couplet:
We have investigated site management systems and records and spoken to a number of employees. As a result we are pursuing lines of inquiry. Amazing. Incredible.
Release by human movement must also be considered a real possibility. Further investigation of the above issues is required and is being urgently pursued.
The polished blandness of this, redacted by Sir Humphrey in person, tells me this is Whitehall Speak for: “Oh, shit!” There is obviously a lot going on that we are not being told, although I promise we shall find out. Just some initial thoughts. “Various potential routes” means more than one. “We are pursuing lines of inquiry” confirms they have one or more suspects.
So much for the vaunted biosecurity, then. And so much for the government’s hope that this could all be quickly blamed on Merial labs. That HSE have not immediately done so is suggestive, if not conclusive.
So, Pirbright is a potential crime scene. A couple of lard-arsed coppers lounging around the front gate (as seen on all TV channels) seems an inadequate response by the Surrey constabulary.
Round up the usual suspects!
Another crime scene is the newsrooms of the national media who are blundering about oaf-like on this story. The word “vaccination” was banned from the BBC 6 o’clock national news program yesterday. Sky has a very pretty girl outside Pirbright who knows the square root of fuck all about FMD and would struggle to define or even spell epizootic. Sky has a medical correspondent who seems to be getting around this, but their continued reliance on the NFU as an authority is perverting their coverage and making them look ever more naive and stupid. The BBC as one might expect is slavish to official sources.
The newspapers meanwhile print tosh as today’s unsigned Guardian panel on vaccination shamefully demonstrates. The Guardian has had a good blog on this for a couple of days but the Whitehall staff are conduits and the paper has not yet really hit its stride. The Telegraph is keen. The Times is wildly unreliable; their reliance on official sources and leaks too obvious, the suspicion of spin always too close.
I am working on a list of the 10 top things about FMD as I am told lists generate enormous numbers of clicks (and like all bloggers this is the subject that obsesses me most, as well as knowing how many readers I have in Albania). Please send me your nominations. An early candidate for the top most stupid thing is from Sir Brian Follett in The Sunday Times who sagely declares: “the reason we slaughter animals is because, in island countries, it works. We can keep the virus out.” This is pretty delusional, isn’t it Sir Brian?
Updating at 10.03 a.m.: Le Monde has just arrived with a brilliant Plantu cartoon illustrating a story that declares there to be a “Pénurie mondiale de lait: les prix vont monter.” The French government, says the paper, is going to seek an adjustment of milk quota to meet demand for milk and milk products which is now outstripping supply in Europe.
Updating at 12.05: Hooray! Matthew Weaver’s blog is back in the Guardian.
Hooray again!!! Sheepdrove is back.
15.00: Sky continues to produce the worst sort of commodity journalism with painful absence of producers who understand the science or the ground reality. To the dichotomy of ground reality versus system reality there is the third dimension of media reality which is completely detached from either! The imperative of 24 hour TV is that powerful authorities are capable of manipulating it almost all the time. Sometimes, an “event” can disrupt this control but usually the authorities will maintain their overwhelming influence on the definition of the narrative. Only independent and authoritative journalists can challenge this and even so they are limited in what they can do. This is why I read the media to know what’s in the media, but not to discover what is actually happening.