British peer of the realm Lady Apsley is due to present a petition to parliament before Christmas calling for an independent public inquiry into the government’s “gross mishandling of the [foot and mouth] crisis”.

Speaking from her home in the grounds of Cirencester Park, Gloucestershire, 36-year-old Apsley told the Daily Telegraph that the attacks of 11 September had provided a welcome distraction for the Labour government as it sought to engineer the “massive cover-up we all know has taken place”.

“The attack, as ghastly as it has been, was a gift from heaven for the Government, as it has taken all attention away from the plight of the countryside,” she said.

Apsley’s dairy herd of 150 Friesians and her 35 rare Gloucester cattle actually escaped the foot and mouth cull, largely because of the sheer expanse of her gardens, but many local farmers lost their herds and she has been able to collect more than 250,000 signatures from “townies as well as rurals, who know full well what has been going on and are furious about it”.

“It’s so insulting that the Government has treated farmers like a bunch of idiots. It seems that no one is standing up for them, which is why I am doing what I am doing,” she added, vowing “the government is expecting people to give up this campaign, but I am not going to.”

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