Law firm Clarke Willmott is to launch a High Court test case to establish which types of businesses affected by the August outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and who have suffered losses, are able to make a claim.

The decision follows publication of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report on the outbreak of foot and mouth disease released on Friday, 7 September.

It is the view of lawyers at Clarke Willmott that the HSE report clearly shows fault on behalf of both DEFRA and Merial

But leaves unanswered questions about who should shoulder the impact of the outbreak.

Tim Russ, head of agriculture at Clarke Willmott, which is representing a number of businesses affected by the outbreak of foot and mouth, said: “The real issue, however, is not who was at fault.  The question that needs to be resolved is to whom is a duty of care is owed by Merial and DEFRA and thus who can claim as a result?”

Attention has focused in the media on who is at fault and the drainage system at Pirbright.  The HSE report states that in the case of DEFRA they failed to maintain the drainage system or ensure it was maintained by Merial.

They also failed to regulate the overall maintenance of biosecurity on the site. 

The report goes on to say that in the case of Merial, whether or not they were responsible for the drainage system, they were disposing of water which could at any time have been infected with live virus and should not have used the system if there was a risk of an escape.

“The report fails to address to whom a duty of care is owed by Merial and DEFRA.  Until this is clarified businesses affected by the outbreak of foot and mouth will be left in financial limbo,” said Mr Russ.