Booker Notebook

Sunday Telegraph

Sunday December 16th

Although more than seven and a half million animals were destroyed during the foot-and-mouth epidemic, only three won national fame. Phoenix the calf and Grunty the pig were saved, Misty the goat was not. On April 5 Kirstin McBride returned home from work at Locherbie station in Dumfriesshire to find her pet goat lying dead in the driveway with a plastic bag over its head. While police kept her mother talking in the kitchen, a vet and an official of the Scottish Environmental and Rural Affairs Department (Serad) had climbed over a wall, broken into Misty's shed and killed her.

Miss McBride asked under what law her goat had been killed. When the police could not tell her, she became so upset that she took a knife from the kitchen drawer to kill herself. When a policewoman forcibly restrained her, she pummelled the woman with her fists. She was arrested, held in a police cell for four hours and charged with a string of offences, including assaulting the police.

Since then she has been in court in April, July, August, September and October. Initially she represented herself because she could not afford a solicitor. In September she was told in the Sheriff's court she was foolish not to be legally represented. The Procurator Fiscal, the prosecutor, presented her with "a huge pile of paper, 15 cases full of legal jargon and Latin phrases". The court allowed her two minutes to look them over, yet when she mentioned Serad, the Sheriff had to ask what this was. Just before the latest hearing last week Miss McBride, now legally represented, was told that if she would agree to plead guilty to causing a breach of the peace, all other charges would be dropped. After a night's reflection she decided she did not want a criminal record and refused. The case was yet again adjourned, to March 11.

Under the law, before Misty was killed, Miss McBride should have been served with a 'Form A notice', declaring her home 'an infected place'. No one ever claimed that the goat was infected or been exposed to infection. To this day Serad has been unable to produce a Form A notice, although last week Miss McBride was served with a 'Form B', requiring her home to be kept under surveillance, with a note to say that this was to replace the Form A which has never been served.

Many lawyers and vets, including Roger Windsor, a Dumfriesshire vet on the council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, have protested that from March onwards the Form A system was used illegally by officials, to justify killing millions of healthy animals under the 'contiguous cull' scheme. The existing law, the Animal Health Act 1981, clearly states that animals may only be destroyed if either they are infected or there is evidence to show they have been exposed to infection. Hence the government's decision to introduce its new Animal Health Bill, which last week completed its progress through the Commons, giving ministry officials unprecedented powers to enter any premises and kill any animal, including pets, while denying the owner any legal right to challenge their actions. This is widely viewed as an attempt by the government to grant its officials powers they claimed to be acting under during the 'contiguous cull' but which until now the law has not given them.

The government thus stands accused by many respectable professionals of what amounts to one of the most widespread breaches of the criminal law in history. But the only person still facing legal proceedings from this catastrophe is a girl in her twenties who was so upset when she could not be given any legal reason for the killing of her goat that she was briefly tempted to kill herself. As the policewoman told her, when she was being arrested, "Grow up. This is the real world, not Disneyworld".

Last month I mentioned a superb Channel Four documentary on what is one of the most outrageous human and environmental tragedies taking place anywhere in the world. The reporter Kim Willsher used her fluent French to produce a devastatingly thorough account of how a fleet of large foreign trawlers is pillaging the waters off the coast of the small West African country of Mauritania, destroying not only the livelihoods of local fishermen but even their lives. 290 have been run down and killed by foreign trawlers in the past year alone, many it appears deliberately.
Although some of these trawlers are Russian and Chinese, the key to this problem is a series of deals agreed by the European Union with poor African and other third world countries, whereby the EU has paid more than £1 billion (£130 million from British taxpayers) to buy fishing rights for the mainly Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets. The money goes to the governments, many like that in Mauritania massively corrupt. The victims are the African fishermen who lose not only their fish but in thousands of cases their lives.
Last Thursday the European Parliament in Strasbourg was asked to ratify a further payment of £54 million to the Mauritanian government, run by Arabs who came to West Africa through the slave trade, whereas the local fishermen are black Africans, treated as an inferior race. A British MEP, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, referred to the Channel Four report and called for a Parliamentary enquiry into what he described as a blatant affront to all those ideals which members of the EU Parliament love to profess. To vote for this deal, he said, is no less than 'a vote to subsidise murder'. He was immediately followed by the Spanish chairman of the fisheries committee who was "pleased to say that this is very much a minority view in this house'. Mr Farage's criticism of the deal was witheringly dismissed by the EU fisheries commissioner Frans Fischler. The deal was overwhelmingly approved, not least by all the British Conservative MEPs present.
The BBC Today programme last week produced another of its famous commercials to promote Britain joining the euro. Somehow it dug up a wildly Europhile Asian Tory from Guildford to explain that the reason why the Conservatives lost this seat last June was the unrelenting 'anti-Europeanism' of their campaign. The unseated Tory MP was allowed very briefly to explain that actually he had tried to avoid mentioning the EU in his campaign. But all this was really only a warm-up for yet another interview with Today's favourite Tory, Lord Heseltine. Heseltine's point was that his party's hostility to the euro was the main reason why it currently stands at only 25 percent in the polls. Today was too polite to ask how this could be when the polls also show 70 percent of the British people against joining the euro. Thus, according to Hezza, the Tories are unpopular because they espouse a policy which is overwhelmingly popular with the electorate. The logic of this is so dazzling it makes one feel quite sick with admiration.