Hell farm to openFeb 19 2002
By The Evening Chronicle
Notorious Burnside Pig Farm, where foot and mouth disease is believed to have started last year, is on the brink of reopening on the anniversary of the epidemic.
A year after the start of the devastating outbreak the countryside is still struggling to come to terms with the impact of the disease.
It was exactly a year ago today that a young vet on a routine inspection of an Essex abattoir discovered the virus which was traced to Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall, on the outskirts of Newcastle, within days. But it was too late to stop the spread of the virus.
It was only last month that the disease-ridden derelict farm was torn down. The Chronicle revealed that tenant Bobby Waugh quit the farm in December and the long- awaited clean-up started last month. That work is due to end this week when landowner Phillip Leadbitter can finally look to the future.
He said today: "At the moment we can't even go on the farm because it's still in the hands of Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).
"The farm can't be left as it is, but it's too early to say what we're going to do. Something will have to be done, though.
"It seemed like nothing was going to be done so we had to get our solicitors on to Defra. They seemed happy to just let it stand like that. Once we get on to the farm we can start thinking about the future."
In the North East, 186 farms were confirmed with the disease and 1,023 farms had livestock slaughtered as a precaution.
Nationally, 3,912,700 cattle have been slaughtered and the North East figure of 376,125 is just less than 10 per cent of that. Most businesses devastated by the crisis have begun rebuilding and the livestock farmers who remain are gradually restocking as restrictions on the movement of animals relax.
Amid accusations of widespread incompetence and delay, Tony Blair was forced to take personal charge, the Army was brought in and the General Election had to be postponed.
While the country was at last declared free of the disease on January 14, the fallout continues, with demands for a full public inquiry, and warnings that insufficient border controls could allow another virus to slip into the country.
Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "It's been a year of unparalleled suffering in the farming community but also of unparalleled courage and spirit.
"Thankfully, we're looking forward to a very different spring from the appalling one we went through last year."
Mr Waugh's next-door neighbours, Joan and Jimmy Brown, whose farm at Heddon View is only yards from Burnside, were forced out of business by the outbreak. They could not restock their pig farm while Burnside was still an infection risk.
Mr Brown said: "It doesn't really matter for me now. I've retired; this has all gone on for far too long. It's been a nightmare having to look out of our window and see the farm still dirty, day after day."
Once the land is cleaned another farmer could take on the farm that has blighted rural Britain.
The real cost of the disaster is estimated to be losses of millions of pounds to tourist businesses.
Northumbria Tourist Board chief executive Peter Sloyan said: "Tourism has received nothing and I have very strong feelings about it. The farmers who were infected received compensation, but no one else has."
Disease, blunders and disaster
Foot and mouth disease was first confirmed at Burnside Farm, on February 22, 2001.
The next day the Ministry of Agriculture threw a five-mile exclusion zone around the farm, identifying it as the likely source of the outbreak.
Burnside had supplied animals to an abattoir in Essex, where the alert began. Pig farmer Bobby Waugh, pictured, who ran Burnside was blamed.
We revealed Mr Waugh was the subject of an inquiry by Government officials four weeks before the disease was found and in 1994 he and his brother, Ronnie, were evicted from a Tyneside farm for breaching Government rules.
Three weeks into the crisis we found no Government official had interviewed Mr Waugh.
On April 14 we reported Burnside was yards from a 40-year-old mass grave of foot and mouth infected stock.
In June we reported that Defra had stopped Mr Waugh from cleaning his farm, saying he would have to sign the Official Secrets Act. The day after our report the Government made a U-turn saying he did not need to sign. In September Defra documents, given to us by Government whistle blower, Bryan Munro, showed a string of blunders, blighting the fight against the disease.
Mr Waugh has now pleaded not guilty to 22 offences. In December we revealed he had left Burnside and quit farming.
Last month the farm was finally razed to the ground.