SCOTS GAP livestock mart in Northumberland has been fined £4320 for flouting strict biosecurity regulations introduced in the wake of foot-and-mouth disease.

Serious lapses in biosecurity measures at the mart were discovered by Northumberland County Council Trading Standards Officers and animal health inspectors on six sale days in September and October last year.

Workers at the mart – which is owned by the Hexham and Northern Marts company – were caught keeping hundreds of sheep on nearby grass rather than on hard surfaces, which could be cleaned to guard against animals picking up and spreading disease.

They also failed to ensure that the wheels and tyres of wagons leaving the mart were pressure-sprayed, cleaned and disinfected before leaving to take animals to the abattoir.

Magistrates in Bedlington were told that staff had failed to respond to repeated warnings that they were breaching rules introduced to prevent the return of F&M.

The court was told that the lapses identified by trading standards and animal welfare officers presented a “significant risk” of the reintroduction of F&M had the disease been present in any of the livestock processed by the mart.

Hexham and Northern Marts stock manager Robert Whitelock was ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £4,320 after admitting eight offences under the Animal Health Act.

Northumberland County Council‘s prosecutor said when trading standards visited the mart in September they saw a number of vehicles leaving without having their wheels and tyres cleaned.

He said that staff were warned about this four times but still failed to comply.

Health inspectors also made several visits to the mart in September and October and on one occasion saw that 374 sheep had been moved from pens into three adjoining fields.

The prosecutor added that Mr Whitelock was warned about the breach on the first visit but that sheep were still being kept in fields on four subsequent visits.

“What is particularly distressing about this, and adds to the severity of the breach, is that these were repeat offences,” he said.

Mr Whitelock said that there had been no staff available to clean the vehicles but admitted that there was equipment with which drivers could have cleaned their wheels.

He said the sheep had been put in fields overnight because they would be in better condition the following day when they were slaughtered than if left in the mart‘s pens.

Northumberland County Council‘s chief trading standards officer Mick King said after the case: “Foot-and-mouth disease cost the country an estimated £8 billion in 2001 and we want to do everything we can to make sure it never happens again.”