The lawyer representing farmers fighting a legal case over last year’s foot and mouth outbreak says his clients are seeking £1.5m in damages.

Fourteen farmers are suing DEFRA and two laboratories at the centre of last year’s outbreak for damages.

The laboratories are the publicly funded Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Limited, a privately run vaccine production company.

The farmers are being represented by Peter Cusick, agricultural specialist at solicitors Thring Townsend Lee and Pembertons.

“Investigations have found that the virus escaped from the defective drainage system at the Pirbright site,” he said.

Mr Cusick is an expert in contractual disputes, disputes with DEFRA, the Rural Payments Agency and other public bodies.

He has a keen interest in environmental law and undertakes matters relating to pollution, environmental assessments and various waste related regulations.

Mr Cusick has been successful in a number of cases involving the interpretation of UK and EU legislation.

“DEFRA, which is responsible for regulating the site, knew that the live virus was getting into the effluent drainage system,” he said.

DEFRA also knew about the state of the drains and that both labs wanted those drains renewed, Mr Cusick added.

The farmers also allege that IAH and Merial were negligent in allowing live foot-and-mouth virus to be discharged into the facilities’ defective effluent drainage system.

This resulted in an escape of live foot-and-mouth virus, which caused losses estimated at £100m to Britain’s livestock industry as a whole.

Losses were caused by disruption to farm businesses, including the slaughter of livestock, animal movement restrictions, an export ban and consequential losses.

Thousands of farmers received no compensation for the export ban not for the movement restrictions that were brought in to reduce the spread of infection.