Cumberland & Westmorland Herald 23 Feb 2002

More than 100 cases of complaints about DEFRA's alleged "maladministration" of the FMD crisis were posted to the Parliamentary Ombudsman on Monday by David Maclean, MP for Penrith and the Border. Mr Maclean said each 20-page document outlined the "general shambles" of how the FMD outbreak was handled along with detailed complaints from individual farmers or farm businesses. He said the complaints, of which 85 came from Cumbria, showed maladministration by the Government department. They include:

The complaints allege that MAFF and DEFRA did not apply the normal standards appropriate to government. "I wish we did not have a single case, but we are expecting many more. These complaints are just from farmers who have been killed out either wrongly, badly, slowly or been given bad information. We want these cases to be looked at properly," said Mr Maclean. Farmers can either go to court or take their case to the ombudsman in an attempt to get redress. Going to court can be very expensive so the ombudsman is the final viable option open to farmers. If the Parliamentary Ombudsman finds there has been misadministration, pressure would be put on DEFRA to pay up, but the department would have no legal obligation to do so. "Because there has been no public inquiry for farmers to submit evidence to , they have no option but to go to the ombudsman. Give us a public inquiry and we would not need this, " added Mr Maclean. During the course of a year an MP might usually pass on six cases at most to the ombudsman covering every aspect of government. It is unprecedented to have so many and marks a massive record.

Mr Maclean said one example of maladministration was that the 3km cull was compulsory after all. The junior agriculture minister, Elliot Morley, has written to him to confess that some livestock owners may have been given wrong information about the so-called "voluntary cull" in Cumbria. Mr Morley added: "This was a compulsory cull on grounds of FMD and there was a right to challenge the valuations within 14 days of receiving the statement of valuation." The minister has told Mr Maclean that he is writing to all farmers who had animals slaughtered under the 3km cull in Cumbria to tell them they were given wrong information when they were told that they had no right to dispute the valuation of their animals. In his letter to farmers, Mr Morley states "The department is aware that over the period from 23 March to 24 May 2001, a number of livestock owners in the Cumbria region may have received erroneous information from departmental officials, or others working on behalf of the department, as to the arrangements for compensation for animals culled on grounds of FMD. "We believe that during this period, some owners of animals subject to a 3km Cumbrian cull on grounds of FMD may have been informed that their animals were culled on a voluntary basis. Furthermore, these animal owners may also have been informed they had no right to dispute the valuation of their animals made on behalf of the department in order to calculate compensation for the slaughtered animals.The department considers that all such culls carried out under the supervision of its officials, were, infact, compulsory and that in all such cases there was a right to dispute the valuation within 14 days of receiving the statement of valuation."

The minister has informed farmers to appeal against their valuation by 22 April 2002. Mr Maclean said: " This is yet more evidence that we need a full and proper public inquiry into the scandal of the handling of FMD and the pack of lies farmers have been told from day one. This announcement has been sneaked out in a letter to me with no announcement in Parliament and not a single word of apology. How many other cases do we have from the FMD catastrophe where farmers were ordered to do as they were told by DEFRA, that the Ministry had all the legal powers, that the Ministry could do what it wished, and now it transpires that over this highly contentious policy, which exterminated 500,000 animals, MAFF/DEFRA were lying all along. Only one thing can get to the bottom of the lies and spin from the Government - the need for a full and open, proper public Inquiry is now stronger than ever," he added.

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CASE FILE A farmer from Penrith: The livestock was slaughtered on 21 & 22 March and the payment that Mr D agreed on 21 March no longer reflects the actual cost of restocking the farm. He estimates that, infact, the compensations were 35% to 45% below present day values. In an attempt to speed up the slaughter process, the Government introduced, with effect 21 March, standard values. These values had an inflationary effect on the valuations and in effect set a minimum benchmark for valuations generally. Farmers with livestock which were valued before the introduction of standard values have invariably suffered financially when compared with those whose animals were valued after the introduction. Furthermore, in March 2001, nobody had any idea how long the outbreak would last. Consequently, valuations conducted early in the epidemic (overall) failed to reflect the high cost of restocking. These high costs reflect the fact that so many livestock were culled and therefore there were fewer animals coming on to the market.

CASE FILE A farmer form near Penrith: On 20 March Mr F contacted DEFRA to advise the veterinary officer that he suspected FMD in his livestock. Although Mr F was reasonably sure that the animals had FMD, he did not receive a veterinary inspection until the following day. The veterinary officer inspected the livestock on 21 March and confirmed the presence of FMD. Although infection was "severe", the slaughter of Mr F's livestock did not commence until 6.30 pm on 22 March. The slaughter was not completed until the following day. This is unacceptable both in terms of disease control and in terms of animal welfare.

CASE FILE A farmer from Kirkby Stephen: When sheep were taken as a dangerous contact from a neighbouring farm, MAFF used dirty wagons to transport them. Those wagons had had contact with other farms on the way there and Mr L believes that was the source of infection for the infected premises which subsequently resulted in his livestock being slaughtered on the basis that they were dangerous contacts.