Looking for Justice in the Swill Bucket
DEFRA is set to be sued for up to £40m by a group of farmers who were put out of business during the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, Farmers Weekly can reveal.
The proceedings will be issued to the government tomorrow (19 January) claiming damages resulting from the alleged negligence of a government vet - Jim Dring.
The vet allowed Bobby Waugh's, Burnside Farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall, to continue trading in 2001, even though after his inspection he admitted that the feeding techniques were clearly deficient.
"Mr Dring was trained to spot potential disease risks," said Mr Megaw.
But when he visited Mr Waugh's farm, on 24 January 2001, it is claimed he ignored, missed or failed to appreciate, the significance of factors that then led to the 2001 F&M outbreak.
The vet had both the opportunity and the reason to shut the farm down before the disease took hold, he claimed.
Just 10 days later, Burnside's pigs developed F&M and the disease engulfed British agriculture.
The government blamed the outbreak on the entire swill feeding industry, banning it on 24 May 2001 without compensating the 62 farmers who lost their livelihoods.
FWi can exclusively reveal the dreadful conditions on Burnside Farm,Heddon-on-the-Wall, filmed by Trading Standards officers four weeks after the farm's swill feeding license was renewed. We also have a revealing statement which was withheld from a key government enquiry into foot-and-mouth:
* Video 1 of the Trading Standards visit
* Video 2 of the Trading Standards visit
* Witheld statement from the foot-and-mouth enquiry
Why is foot-and-mouth legal action coming six years after the event?
The need to get to court is that to wait any longer, the swill feeders would fall foul of a legal rule called the Statute Bar. This prohibits legal action being launched more than six years after an alleged transgression. The farmers concerned are left with no option but to act now as they risk running out of time.
So why have they left it so late? The 62 farmers have been waiting for a report by the Parliamentary Ombudsman into the government's alleged maladministration of the swill feeding ban and the hastily convened and concluded consultation that preceded it.
When the inquiry began in October 2003, the hope was that it would uncover vital information that would strengthen the case for compensation. The swill feeders opted to delay launching their legal claim until the inquiry reported.
A senior investigative officer, Neil Armstrong, began the process of uncovering information. But in September 2004 the investigation was broadened following Farmers Weekly's disclosure of Jim Dring's statement and the unearthing of the video showing the appalling conditions at Burnside Farm.
Despite assurances by Mr Armstrong that he would see the inquiry through, he left the investigation later that month. Progress slowed until a new officer, Christine Corrigan, took up the case.
She was joined by John Donnelly - a former police chief superintendent. During the course of his investigations Mr Donnelly named a group of senior officials at DEFRA involved in the consultation on banning swill feeding.
Ms Corrigan declared a possible conflict of interest claiming to be "a close personal friend" of one member of the group. But, given the delays already incurred, the farmers put their faith in Ms Corrigan's professionalism and asked her to continue.
Then in February 2006, almost two and a half years after the investigation began, the Ombudsman said a report, detailing draft conclusions would be published "in two to three weeks' time". It did not materialise.
As 2006 progressed two further publication dates came and went with no explanation. The farmers began to fear that the release would fall beyond the six-year Statute Bar....
The whole shoddy case stinks, no compensation for businesses ruined is just the tip of this iceberg. I will await to see what Miliband has to say: