15 May 2001
Diseased cattle escape ‘botched’ cull

By John Burns, south-west England correspondent

THREE cattle believed to be infected with foot-and-mouth disease are still at large after escaping from a culling operation described as “a pheasant shoot”.

Residents of a north Devon village said marksmen tried to shoot “about two dozen” young Limousin-type cattle as the animals were driven across a field.

The incident happened on a farm at Knowstone, Devon, where Ministry of Agriculture officials confirmed foot-and-mouth disease last weekend.

During the shooting, 17 cattle escaped to a neighbouring farm owned by Gordon Willment, who said he tried to tell the marksmen to stop the botched cull.

The escaped cattle remained on Mr Willments farm until most of them were shot later on Monday (14 May). But some escaped and have not been found.

Local farmers Michael and Julie Millman were shocked. Mrs Millman said: “They were still rounding them up at 10 oclock last night with lights.”

The couple earlier saw another group of cattle rounded up and penned. They said three animals escaped and marksmen were looking around nearby fields.

“We heard three shots and later saw them collect one dead animal. They walked all round those fields for three hours,” said Mrs Millman.

“I could see one with a rifle with telescopic sights. Later we heard a shot and then saw two cattle running away.”

The regional MAFF office at Exeter confirmed on Tuesday (15 May) that three cattle were still at large, and said mist had hampered the search.

But a MAFF spokeswoman was unable to say why proper penning and sedation facilities had not been available for the animals prior to slaughter.

It remains to be seen what will happen on farms where the cattle strayed.

Bill Norman, a local farmer, gave running reports to the south-west office of the National Farmers Union throughout the day.

“At 4pm on Monday afternoon MAFF in London were still denying what had happened and claiming all the cattle had been killed,” he said.

“But on Monday night you could see a group of the cattle in full view of the village, huddled together under the hedge in Gordon Willments field.”

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