Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. What worries me about this is that there may be some money stashed away somewhere and all you know is that he was said to be bankrupt so you gave up chasing him. You do not know where the money went so there is no evidence that the money has gone.
  (Mr McNeill) What we do know is that Mr Bowden had to sell the family farm that had been in the family for three generations, he had to move out of the area where he had lived all his life and leave his friends and colleagues.

  81. I imagine he would. I imagine the other people around him might not have been pleased if he had stayed.
  (Mr McNeill) I understand your views but I do not think that demonstrates someone who had a cash pile somewhere to rely on.

  82. It does not demonstrate that there was not one.
  (Mr McNeill) No, I agree with you, but we have no evidence that was the case. He took one holiday in ten years which was noted by the judge in his summing up. He went to the Bahamas for the first holiday in ten years. That is the only example of largesse that I think we came across.

  83. If I was him I would have gone on holiday quickly before I went on holiday at Her Majesty's pleasure. Can I ask about the map references. I have not been a boy scout ever in my life and I do not know very much about maps but my impression of map references is that basically there is a line at the bottom of the country and a series of lines all the way up and the numbers go up as you go up and they go east-west, they start at the low numbers and get higher as you go across. There must be a section of numbers between which the entire country lies. I would have thought from the sound of things that anything out in the Atlantic must be way outside that entire section of numbers and all you have really got to do is look at the very first digit and you could probably say "that cannot be anywhere in the UK".
  (Mr Bender) As I said earlier in response to an earlier question, the requirement of the scheme was simply to identify the field and as the final four digits were correct the references did not arouse suspicion.

  84. All I am suggesting is that it is rather odd that somebody who is looking at this sort of form and looks at the map reference, and must have seen map references on all sorts of other forms, all of which start, say, with the digit two—I have no idea what the digit is—at the west side of the United Kingdom, and suddenly here is one that starts with the digit one. You would have thought that an averagely intelligent person would have at least asked a question.
  (Mr Bender) The requirement more recently, by bringing in this scheme within the IACS system, is there is an automated validation check to verify the map references but it was not a requirement at the time. The requirement simply just said "Where is the field", and we found it, "is it growing flax?" "Yes".

  85. I understand what the requirements were and how you have hopefully got round it with systems now. I have to say the impression I have of the inspectors is somewhat low afer the evidence of this case. I am quite surprised that you are very strong in supporting your inspectors and saying that they were doing their job. They may have been doing their job but they certainly were not using a bit of common sense.
  (Mr MacKinnon) Can I just add what it is the inspectors are doing. The structure of the map references for IACS purposes is two letters. The land area of the UK is covered by just two preceding letters, one is N, one is S, and then there is another letter after that. That will give you a 100 mile or 100 kilometre—I cannot remember which—block in which the location is to be found. There are then four digits which indicate a particular area within that 100 kilometre block. Then there are four more digits which will give you an actual centre of a field location. Now since all our inspectors know where the farm is that they are going to, all they need to see are those last four digits to locate the centre of each of the fields they are going to. Mr Bowden gave 15 field references by four digit references and if you go to the Ordnance Survey you can indeed find those four digit references within the 100 kilometre block but you have got to be there first. Now if he used a structure, the same structure, as you would expect, for proper co-ordinates, which might be SN12345678 or whatever, he used BR for his local area which was Braunton, the Ordnance Survey would have said "Well, if it began with a B and an R, he is somewhere over here whereas the UK is here". Now that was never at issue, the inspectors were never looking at that. They knew where his farm was, they were looking for the fields on that farm.

  86. I understand the inspectors were never looking at it, what I am suggesting to you is that the inspector with a bit of common sense would say "Why BR because everybody else has been NS?"
  (Mr MacKinnon) No, it really is the systemic problem that had we cross checked the flax fields with that number against the IACS numbers, the IACS machine would say "No such base, there is nothing beginning with BR".

  87. If somebody sees the BR and they have never seen BR before, you would expect them to ask a question.
  (Mr Bender) But the climate and the system at the time allowed the farmer to say "Clover field" and providing the inspector could identify where Clover field was—

  88. He could identify Clover field, what I am saying is he looks at the form, the very first time he looks at the form he sees "BR", he has never seen BR there before and he does not even ask a question what BR means. I think that is extraordinary and I can only repeat that. Can I move on to ask how much do you spend on the inspectors each year?
  (Mr MacKinnon) Sorry, I do not have the salary bill. We have 400 inspectors.
  (Mr McNeill) It is about £16 million a year, that is including their transportation and accommodation, it is of that order. We will provide you with the exact figure.[6]

  89. You said a moment ago, I think, that flax was being grown?
  (Mr MacKinnon) Yes.

  90. On each occasion when the inspectors went there.
  (Mr MacKinnon) Yes.

  91. You believed flax was being grown. Paragraph 2.13, the very last sentence says "No one is entirely certain what crops Joseph Bowden had been growing or which crops were destroyed in the fires". Are you saying that is not correct? You are certain that he was growing flax?
  (Mr MacKinnon) We did two on the site inspections of his 1994 crop. The first one was after he had sown it, and that was done in September 1994. Then we did it again after it had been harvested, which was in April 1995. At that point you would have expected flax under the flax scheme to be in the barn, as you would expect possibly whatever cereals he had got left to be in the barn but, of course, he was saying at that point indeed it was sown that the barn had burnt down.

  92. I do not think one inspection actually saw any growing material?
  (Mr MacKinnon) That is so.

  93. The other one, he tried to inspect but could not. The inspector came around in 1994 and he found flax. He knows it was flax.
  (Mr MacKinnon) He signed a form saying that was the case, yes. I cannot obviously re-perform the inspection but, yes, he was an inspector who had been trained—

  94. You are sure it was flax?
  (Mr Bender) We are sure he was satisfied it was flax.


  95. We are at least getting somewhere.
  (Mr MacKinnon) It is fair to say that the inspectors were trained in crop recognition. I think what the report is saying is that in this particular area, as between linseed and flax, where there is a very close association that might be a difficult call to make. Now I do not know.

Mr Rendel

  96. How close is he allowed to go to this material?
  (Mr MacKinnon) He is allowed to walk in a growing crop, for instance, and certainly would be able to inspect.

  97. He can pick it up, look at the size and shape of the leaves?
  (Mr MacKinnon) Indeed so, yes.

  98. He can look at the size and shape of the flower, colour of the flower, anything like that. You are saying the inspectors cannot identify between these two particular groups?
  (Mr MacKinnon) At some stages of their development they are difficult to discern. He is not doing laboratory checks, he is doing visual checks.

  99. Is he allowed to?
  (Mr MacKinnon) He could take samples, yes.

6   Note by witness: The budget allocation for 2002-03 is in the region of £11.4m (Pay £8.6m, Non Pay Running Costs £2.8m). The inspectorate has an external training budget of £150,000. On top of this, in-house training is delivered to inspectors on the job through coaching by peers and managers. There is also mandatory training funded centrally by RPA and DEFRA. If inspectors require training in map reading and interpretation then such training is available and will be provided. Back

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