AN OFFICIAL investigation into the CJD deaths of three Welsh people has been reopened after new evidence was discovered in an unpublished report.
The report, written 15 years ago, offers crucial clues into how school meals in West Wales may have been infected with the human form of mad cow disease.
But it has only been brought to light as a result of an investigation by ITV current affairs programme Wales This Week.
The father of one of the three victims of the disease has described the oversight as "incredible".
The 1991 Keane Report, as it was known, was discovered in the archives of the National Assembly's agriculture division, and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. A second copy was later found in the archives of Carmarthenshire County Council - even though an inquiry in 2004 by the National Public Health Service for Wales failed to locate a single one.
Philip Davies, the council's head of public protection and also a member of the team which investigated the CJD cases, had been unable to find a copy.
Marianne Harvey, 25, from Stepaside, near Tenby, Richard Cole, 30, of Kilgetty, and Richard Roberts, 18, of Carmarthen, all died from the human form of mad cow disease between 1999 and 2002.
The 2004 inquiry found they had all eaten school dinners in 1987 and 1988 - Ms Harvey and Mr Cole at Greenhill School in Tenby, and Mr Roberts at Johnstown Primary School in Carmarthen.
The inquiry suggested their deaths may have been linked to eating school dinners after it was discovered the abattoir used to supply the schools they attended was also being used to slaughter animals deemed unfit for human consumption.
But the report decided there was no firm evidence to prove contamination.
Tonight ITV current affairs programme Wales This Week is set to reveal that offal deemed unfit for human consumption could have been processed in exactly the same area in which meat was being prepared for shipment to schools at the Pwll Bach abattoir in Llanelli.
The programme will reveal the information from the newly-discovered Keane Report, named after the barrister who chaired the inquiry way back in 1990. And the National Public Health Service for Wales has confirmed that it is now reopening the inquiry into the three deaths.
But Terry Roberts, a retired police officer whose son Richard died of CJD in 2002, is angry that the Keane Report, commissioned by Llanelli Borough Council in 1990, has taken so long to surface.
He said, "The meat scandal was high profile at the time, and everyone knew that Mr Keane QC had held an inquiry. We were able to obtain copies of many of the statements, but not the report.
"It seems incredible that the inquiry team, with their access to all kinds of public records, weren't able to find a copy.
"After all, ITV Wales found one in the Government's own records."
Mr Roberts added that he found news of the discovery of a second copy of the report in the Carmarthenshire archives "absolutely amazing".
The schools attended by the three victims were all supplied by a wholesaler, based at the abattoir, who held an exclusive contract to supply meat to schools in the old county of Dyfed. There has never been any criticism of the way in which the Thomas family, which ran the abattoir at the time, performed its duties.
The 2004 investigation found that while the abattoir and wholesaler both operated legally and produced high-quality meat, the facility was also used by Cross Hands-based cattle dealer Philip Murrell, who may have been a source of infection.
Mr Murrell was allowed to use the abattoir to slaughter fallen and casualty animals, and was the subject of a police investigation over allegations that he was dealing in unfit meat. The Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.
It had previously been assumed that Mr Murrell's business was kept entirely separate from the school meals contract, using different workers at different times, but the Keane Report says Mr Murrell was paying the abattoir owners partly in offal. The report goes on to suggest that some of his animals were sick and diseased and not fit for the human food chain, and suggests this meat could have been prepared in the same area as the school meat.
A spokesman for the Thomas family told ITV Wales that Mr Murrell's offal never went anywhere near the school meat contract. Mr Murrell was unavailable for comment.
The abattoir, in Dafen, Llanelli, is still operating, but is now under new management, and is one of the most modern slaughterhouses in Wales, with a clean bill of health from the Meat Hygiene Service.
Wales This Week is on ITV Wales at 8pm tonight
Page 2 - Changes in tissue