Back to website

Horror scenes in the farm of filth

May 31 2002

By The Evening Chronicle


Appalling scenes show the horrific conditions on the farm at the centre the foot and mouth epidemic which devastated the country.

The never-before-seen pictures obtained by the Chronicle show the disgusting conditions which greeted sickened trading standards officers at Bobby Waugh's Burnside Farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, last February.

Sick and ailing pigs lie in a huddled mass, broken crockery lies scattered and festering and the farm dog is allowed to root through the piled-up filth.

It was this farm which the then Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said was the `most likely' source of the outbreak which led to hundreds of thousands of animals being slaughtered.

The conditions were captured by Northumberland trading standards officers and used as part of their evidence against Mr Waugh in his three-week trial.

As revealed in later editions of the Chronicle last night, Waugh, 56, of St Lukes Road, Pallion, Sunderland, was convicted of nine charges of animal cruelty and covering up the disease which ripped through Britain ruining the lives of thousands of farmers.

At South East Northumberland Magistrates Court at Bedlington, Judge James Prowse found Waugh guilty of five counts of failing to notify authorities of the outbreak at Burnside.

He was also found guilty of one count of feeding unprocessed waste to his animals and one of failing to properly dispose of animal by-products.

Waugh was cleared of two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to pigs, one of bringing unprocessed waste on to the farm and three of failing to dispose of animal by-products.

A charge of failing to keep records of pig movements was dropped during the hearing.

The case was adjourned for pre-sentence reports. Waugh is expected to be sentenced on June 28.

Afterwards Waugh said: "I don't regret anything I did, because I didn't know the disease was there, so I couldn't report it, so far as I was concerned. I don't regret anything what I done."

David Wilkinson, a member of his defence team, said: "Bobby Waugh has been cleared of seven of the 16 charges against him.

"He is upset and disappointed at the conviction on the remaining nine charges. He has maintained his innocence throughout.

"He will be considering his position with his legal team."

Today Mrs Irene Leadbitter and her husband Philip, who ran Burnside Farm for 20 years until 1995 when they rented it to brothers Bobby and Ronnie Waugh, broke their silence.

Mrs Leadbitter said: "I have no sympathy for him.

"There were complaints about fires burning on the site and swill being tipped at the side of the road.

"The place was very untidy. But at the end of the day, I pay my taxes for people like Defra and Trading Standards to inspect premises like this and see that they are kept up to standard. Their attitude to this place was very lackadaisical.

"If it had been policed properly this would never have occurred in the first place."

She and her husband are 10,000 out of pocket because of the red tape in cleaning up the farm.

From the outset of the foot and mouth crisis, Bobby Waugh was at the centre of it.

He was one of the first in Britain to be told the disease had been discovered in pigs at an Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex. No other animal in the country had symptoms of the disease before his farm was the third place in Britain where foot and mouth was confirmed.

Waugh had run the pig fattening unit for seven years.

Prosecution witnesses painted a gruesome picture of the fattening unit. Some produced video recordings that were screened during the trial, which took those viewing them into the filth-covered pens where the pigs were fattened before going for slaughter.

More videos made by Trading Standards officers from Northumberland showed metal drums being hauled from under a trailer and emptied. They contained bones, semi-liquified flesh and other waste.

Waugh said he didn't know about the contents of the drums.

Some pigs from Waugh's unit were sent to Cheale Meats abattoir in Essex on February 16, 2001. Three days later he got a call from the abattoir to say that a notifiable disease was suspected. On February 21 it was confirmed as foot and mouth. The next day MAFF vets were at Burnside and found signs of the disease there.

They said many of the 527 pigs at Burnside showed signs of foot and mouth including blisters on their legs and snouts. Some had scarring left by old blisters that had burst and healed . Some were lame and had hooves that were beginning to split from their feet and come off like thimbles.

During clearing at the farm the bodies of three piglets were found sunk in slurry in one shed and half of a pig was discovered in a waste heap.

Videos made before the herd was destroyed showed some lying listlessly in on their own in filth-covered pens. Others were huddled on top of each other.

Trading standards officials who took the videos testified that they had found masses of metal knives, forks and spoons in pig pens and walkways between them.

The suspicion was that they had been among unprocessed waste taken to the farm.

Judge Prowse emphasised that Waugh was not on trial for starting the foot and mouth disease outbreak last year.

"Mr Waugh is not on trial for starting the outbreak and there is nothing with which he is charged, or could have been charged which could determine that," he said.

Not a witch-hunt

Pigs were part of Bobby Waugh's life from the day he was born.

His father ran a pig business and as soon as Waugh left school at the age of 15 he went into the same line of work with his older brother Ronnie.

In 40 years of buying, fattening and selling pigs the Waughs had never seen foot and mouth disease although they did lose a herd in the 1970s when it was hit by an outbreak of swine vesicular disease, a close cousin of foot and mouth, with similar symptoms.

The brothers had worked in the Sunderland and Tyneside area for most of their lives, but in 1994 were evicted from a Tyneside farm for breaching MAFF guidelines.

In 1995 they took over the pig fattening unit at Burnside Farm Heddon-on-the-Wall. Until then it had been run by Irene Leadbitter and her husband Philip, but they decided to pack in when their herd was hit by a virus disease.

The Leadbitters had a licence to process catering waste into swill and feed it to pigs at Burnside.

But when the Waughs took over, their licence allowed them only to feed swill to their herd.

The swill they used came from a processing unit at neighbouring Heddon View Farm run by James Brown, another pig farmer.

Bobby Waugh had prime responsibility for the care of pigs at Burnside and his brother Ronnie did most of the buying and selling.

Pigs ready for slaughter were sent straight to the abattoir and others were fattened up first at Burnside.

The man who led the decision to prosecute Bobby Waugh said the case was not a witch-hunt against the man accused of starting last year's foot and mouth outbreak.

Mick King, Northumberland's trading standards chief said the case against Waugh has been conducted in a balanced, fair way.

He added that his department worked hard not to turn the trial into an exercise in blame for starting a foot and mouth outbreak that cost jobs, millions of pounds and the slaughter of more than three million animals.

"We have been at pains for it not to be a trial about foot and mouth and not a witch-hunt against Bobby Waugh," Mr King added. "I am very pleased with the way the trial has been heard. It has been conducted in a balanced fashion, we have done our job very professionally."