Extract from comments that follow this story: It is entirely possible that Redwing and friends were a genuine risk through their travels and might have taken FMD north and that MAFF acted responsibly in stopping them. What MAFF did not want was an East Anglian source, which would immediately expose the CSF scandal.

They rushed out the Chinese Restaurant story as a cover. They did not realise that an experienced and interested observer would spot it as a plant and do something about it

I think the key thing to do at this moment is check and double check every reference to this story and the aftermath...

Pig cruelty evidence was illegal - judge

May 5, 2001 09:46 By RACHEL BULLER
Doubts were raised about the validity of the RSPCA Freedom Food label yesterday after a court heard evidence that a north Norfolk farm carrying the quality mark had mistreated pigs.

The RSPCA itself initiated court proceedings against the Roughton pig farm after seeing film evidence of cruelty.

But yesterday the case against Woodlands Farm was dropped after a judge decided the evidence provided by two animal rights' protesters could not be used because of the illegal way it had been gathered.

Instead he fined Wendy Valentine and Richard Holland, who were behind the covert film, almost £5000 for breaking swine fever restrictions to obtain the footage.

The farm has the Freedom Food stamp of approval which tells consumers that any meat carrying its logo is from a farm where animals are kept in the best possible conditions. But the RSPCA's decision to act on the footage sends a worrying signal to consumers who often rely on such quality assurances.

After the case, Chief Supt Phil Wilson, who is in charge of prosecutions for the RSPCA, said: "Despite what has been alleged against the RSPCA, it treats all complaints without fear or favour - irrespective of whether a particular farm hold Freedom Food accreditation - because we have to maintain the high standards of what that label means.

"Having seen the video evidence the RSPCA were satisfied that animal welfare may have been compromised and brought this prosecution as a result of that."

Woodlands manager Antony Keysell, 49, had been charged with five offences of failing to look after pigs in accordance with livestock regulations and causing them unnecessary distress and pain between August 8 and August 21 last year.

British Quality Pigs, of Framlingham in Suffolk, Howard Revell and Christine Rhatigan, both of Station Road, Framlingham, and Michael Wijnberg, of Bridge Farm, Old Newton, Stowmarket, had each faced one charge of knowingly causing the animal unnecessary pain or distress between the same dates.

After the cruelty case was dismissed, the court heard how Valentine, 52, of The Street, Old Costessy, and Holland, 48, of Brightwell Road, Norwich, went about collecting the tapes of evidence.

The pair, who were working for Hillside Animal Sanctuary's investigation unit, pleaded guilty to entering an infected place, namely Woodlands Farm, without written permit during the classical swine fever outbreak.

In August, Valentine and Holland made a number of visits to the farm without permission to shoot the film after a tip-off from a member of public about the conditions.

Ian Bartram, prosecuting for Norfolk Trading Standards, told the court that while they were carrying out their clandestine surveillance at the pig farm, a form A notice was in force on the premises after MAFF officials suspected swine fever.

"Yellow no-entry tape was placed across the only entrance and a disinfectant bath was available," he said.

During interviews Holland admitted going on the farm but said he was not aware of the restrictions and had entered the premises via backfields and footpaths.

Valentine admitted being present on "a number of occasions" but said as soon as she knew about the outbreak they took precautions.

Mr Bartram said that despite the footage, "on visiting the farm, the MAFF official noted there were no other welfare problems at the time".

For Valentine and Holland, Simon Nicholls said: "Freedom Foods appears to be an organisation owned by the RSPCA. What they were thinking about is, do we go to a prosecuting authority where the potential defendant is the prosecutor - albeit in a different guise."

Describing "quite horrendous animal suffering", he said the defendants felt they had to collect enough evidence before going to the RSPCA or MAFF to secure a prosecution.

"They were driven by a real passion for animal welfare, they are not terrorists," he said. "They felt on balance the cruelty and suffering was a greater evil than breaching the swine fever regulations."

When dismissing the video evidence, District Judge Patrick Heley described the way in which it was gathered as "improper, illegal, intrusive and irresponsible".

He said the level of the fine would send a clear message to others about the importance of not taking such disease restrictions lightly.

Valentine was given an £1800 fine and Holland a £1440 fine and they were both ordered to pay costs of #700 each.

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