8 June 2001
Crooks offer virus for cash

By Jonathan Riley

CRIMINALS are targeting farmers and offering to deliberately infect their livestock with foot-and-mouth disease in exchange for thousands of pounds.

A mystery caller is phoning producers claiming he can infect animals with disease-ridden livestock from hundreds of miles away.

One Kent farmer who has been approached told FARMERS WEEKLY: “The man at the end of the phone sounded businesslike and intelligent.

“He told me that he would deliver foot-and-mouth disease between midnight and one oclock in the morning for 4000 cash.

“He did not get chance to say how he would get the disease on to the farm because I tore him off a strip.

“I called him lowlife scum and told him to dig a pit and bury himself. I was appalled and disgusted.

“I tried to trace his number, but the operator would only tell me that the call was made from a payphone.”

Other farmers in the area have also been approached, prompting one producer to comment: “The caller must be going through the Yellow Pages.

“No one I know has agreed to it, but some are so desperate and emotional after years of worry that I am worried someone will crack.”

Another Kent farmer said he was asked for 5000 by the caller. Thinking it was a sick joke, he quizzed the man before hanging up.

The farmer said he was dumbstruck when the caller revealed plans to infect livestock using an infected lamb that he had got from Devon.

A MAFF spokeswoman said she was appalled to hear of the scam. Farmers should contact the ministry if they were approached, she said.

MAFF is concerned that farmers might be tempted to have their animals infected so that they can claim compensation worth thousands of pounds.

The spokeswoman said: “Although we would like to look into this, unless the farmers who have been approached contact us we cannot tackle the problem.”

Statistics on the disease cases in Kent would suggest no-one has taken up the offer – the last of five cases in Kent was identified on 2 April.

Thorough tests have taken place around the farms in the North Kent area and the infected area restrictions have been lifted.

The MAFF spokeswoman said the Kent outbreaks were most likely caused by the disease being blown across the Thames estuary from Essex.

The epidemic was discovered by an abattoir inspector in February at a slaughterhouse belonging to Cheale Meats near Brentwood, Essex.

Kent Police said they were taking the matter seriously, but had not received any information from farmers who had been approached.

A police spokesman urged producers to come forward with information. Anyone who felt they were under threat should report instances to the police.

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