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Muckspreader 30 november

" It seemed those infected animals which had swung the case were a complete fiction."

Like a comet, the foot-and-mouth catastrophe of 2001 leaves a long tail behind it. Gordon Brown cannot have been pleased to be told by the European Commission that it has finally decided to withhold £600 million of the money claimed by the Treasury from Brussels for its costs in handling the epidemic. This was because the Commission ruled that the UK Government had spent way over the odds, not least on buying the acquiescence of farmers in allowing some eight million healthy animals to be illegally slaughtered in the ‘pre-emptive cull’. As this column frequently reported at the time, this pre-emptive slaughter – the brainchild of Professor Roy Anderson – was unlawful, because the Maffia had no legal authority to destroy animals unless they had been directly exposed to infection. Only now is the final bill for this unprecedented breach of the criminal law being presented to the British public, amounting to around £25 for every taxpayer in the land.

Another aftershock of the tragic events of 2001 is highlighted in a new book The Killing Pens, published by one of the heroines of that awful time, Janet Hughes, a teacher from mid-Wales. Miss Hughes tells how, in July 2001, she was so appalled by the decision of the Welsh Assembly to slaughter 20,000 sheep on the Brecon Beacons, when the epidemic was all but over, that she decided to intervene. The local farmers seemed quite happy to see their sheep destroyed for no apparent reason, because the compensation was much more than their animals’ market value: those same bribes which have now cost UK taxpayers £600 million.

Miss Hughes acquired a small flock on the Beacons, to give her legal status, and sank her life savings into hiring lawyers to fight the Assembly’s decision, on the grounds that the mass-cull was both unnecessary and illegal. When Defra saw the implications of her action, they took over the case, asking for it to be heard in the High Court in London. Miss Hughes chillingly describes how, at the last minute, Defra submitted a new witness statement signed by Defra’s chief vet Jim Scudamore, which seemed to blow her case out of the water. It showed that in one case no fewer than “140 rams” had all been found clinically diseased. This, according to Scudamore, indicated “a heavy weight of infection”.

Even Miss Hughes’s barrister was knocked sideways. The judge wasted no time in dismissing her case. Miss Hughes was left owing Defra £17,000 in legal costs. Only when the case was over did she set out on a detective trail to discover where those infected rams could have come from. She tracked down the site where they had allegedly been slaughtered and the farm from which they were supposed to have come. It became obvious there was no way so many rams could have been included in the sheep slaughtered in that area: that there could have been as many as 140 was physically impossible. It seemed those infected animals which had swung the case were a complete fiction. To anyone who followed Defra’s conduct at that time in detail, Miss Hughes’s story will hardly come as a surprise. But it is good to have this particular example at last on permanent record. (The Killing Pens can be bought from Laurels Cottage, Churchstoke, Montgomery, Powys SY15 6SR for £14 inc.postage, cheques to Save Our Sheep).