Hywel Williams (Power obfuscates, October 31) may be able to get "instant information" and "increasing access" to government, but this was not the case for independent and public-health scientists trying to study BSE in the 1990s. Maff took all possible steps to refuse access to information and forbid the Department of Health and the public health laboratory service from doing public health research.
Williams is right to say that it was not secrecy that caused BSE, but neither was it "remorseless press scrutiny" or that ministers were afraid of a supposedly irrational public reaction to BSE. Part of the ministerial fear was that they might be exposed as defending the vested interests of industry above public health. The release of the free market in the early 1980s led inexorably to BSE just as the privatisation of the railways led to Hatfield.
University of Stirling