http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0200wales/page.cfm?objectid=12441866&method=full&siteid=50082
 
Stab in the back for farmers' hero

Dec 10 2002

Rhodri Evans

 

AN abattoir owner who was hailed as a hero of the foot-and-mouth crisis feels he has been stabbed in the back by the same Government that needed his help.

Defra, the Department for Rural Affairs, asked William James to exceed the slaughter limit at his Raglan abattoir in Monmouthshire to cope with the foot-and-mouth slaughter programme, but he was then prosecuted by the Food Standards Agency, despite Defra's continued support.

When the foot-and-mouth epidemic struck last year it created massive problems for the farming industry, with restrictions imposed on the transportation of animals.

Livestock markets were closed and many farmers were at a loss over what to do with their animals.

Many farmers in Monmouthshire turned to 74-year-old Mr James, who owned the only slaughterhouse in the county. His phone hardly stopped ringing, with people calling in the hope that his slaughterhouse could deal with their animals rather than seeing them destroyed under the welfare scheme.

Trucks of livestock were sent to his premises with movement orders stating that they had to be slaughtered within 24 hours.

Mr James's slaughterhouse was allowed to deal with only 1,000 units of animals in a year, but with the foot-and-mouth crisis gripping Wales in the year 2001-02 he dealt with 1,287 units.

This was a technical breach of his licence but the official vet, who was on the premises throughout, raised no concerns and Defra officials and even the National Assembly's Minister for Rural Affairs, Carwyn Jones, were aware of the situation.

At the height of the crisis MPs even went on record as saying they wished there were more small abattoirs like Mr James's.

The family firm spent thousands of pounds on hard standing, pressure washers and disinfectant to deal with the extra measures the crisis called for. To the local farming community Mr James was seen as a hero, with local farmers convinced they would have gone out of business if it had not been for the Raglan abattoir.

But when the crisis was over Mr James received a letter from the Food Standards Agency to tell him he was being prosecuted for breaching his licence.

At Newport Magistrates' Court yesterday Mr James, who has traded for 43 years without encountering the courts, admitted that he was technically guilty of four counts of breaching the regulations.

The magistrates gave him a conditional discharge and ordered him to pay #250, substantially less than the #2,268 costs the prosecution had sought.

The Food Standards Agency's barrister, Ian Thomas, said the regulations Mr James had breached were important because they were there to ensure that animals were not put at risk and that hygiene standards were not endangered.

Mr James's solicitor, Paul Philpott, told the court, "My client has a huge amount of support in the local agricultural community.

"Abattoirs had to work at full capacity to meet the demands of what was a national emergency.

"Once the animals arrived, if there were too many it was not possible to return them to the farm.

"In some ways I am drawn to the conclusion that although he is being prosecuted by a government agency, to some extent, when the need suited them, his actions were being condoned by those in authority.

"He now feels that he has been stabbed in the back by the same agencies that condoned his behaviour."

Mr Philpott read to the court an impressive series of character references.

The most telling were a letter from Defra which described the slaughter work undertaken by the Raglan abattoir during the crisis as "strategically important given the lack of a suitable alternative", and a letter from then Rural Affairs Minister Carwyn Jones which acknowledged that he had been aware that Mr James was operating beyond his licensed capacity.