COMPENSATION JOY FOR FMD GUN CLUBBy Julian Whittle
A GUN club that was turfed off Great Orton airfield during foot and mouth has won £59,000 in compensation from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.
Carlisle and District Gun Club used the airstrip twice a month for clay-pigeon shooting until 2001 when the airfield became a mass burial site for animal carcasses.
What followed was a David-and-Goliath struggle as the club took on the might of Maff, later Defra, in an effort to gain compensation.
Club official Donald Armstrong claims Defra tried to evade its responsibilities and only the threat of legal action, which, in truth, the club could not afford, brought about a settlement three years later.
He said: “I have a very cynical view of government and government organisations.
“I used to trust them but now I see them as nothing more than criminals. They do what they like, when they want and they don’t seem to be accountable.”
The club had used Great Orton as a tenant of a local farmer since 1988.
When foot and mouth broke out it suspended meetings for biosecurity reasons.
Mr Armstrong says Maff, as it was then, took over the airfield and asked the gun club to halt operations for 12 months in return for £15,000 compensation. He says the club signed an agreement in good faith, only for Defra to claim it was void because nobody at Defra had signed it.
In the meantime, five sheds containing £6,000 of equipment were bulldozed by Defra who told the club they could never return to the site.
Despite all this, Mr Armstrong said, Defra was prepared only to offer £15,000.
He added: “They were gambling that we couldn’t afford to go to court. We bluffed them. In practice we only had £6,000 in the bank.”
Defra has now paid £59,000 in compensation plus £16,527 to cover legal costs.
Solicitor James Bell, of Carlisle law firm Bell Park Kerridge, who acted for the gun club, believes this will give hope to other businesses still owed money by Defra.
Mr Bell said: “Taking on a government department is never an easy task but we have had plenty of experience as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak.
“We have a reputation for taking on cases which have been going nowhere, giving some direction, and then winning. We do not need clients to have limitless funds. All we need are good witnesses who believe in their case.”
Defra declined to comment.
The gun club now has a healthy bank balance but nowhere to shoot.
Its 75 members have to travel as far away as Blackpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
Mr Armstrong, of Glasson near Port Carlisle, said: “Why couldn’t we have stayed at Great Orton?
“What have they got to hide on that site? Why do they have security there 24 hours a day? There’s something untoward going on.”