2 November 2001

F&Msolicitor refutes Morley criticisms

A SOLICITOR who represented farmers resisting the foot-and-mouth cull has hit back at government claims that legal cases contributed to the spread of the disease in 2001.

William Neville, senior partner at Bristol solicitors Burges Salmon which represented nine farmers, said comments by junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley were "pathetic". He also refuted Mr Morleys claim that the government had won "almost all" its legal battles with farmers.

Mr Neville said MAFF had withdrawn from seven of the nine cases in which his company represented farmers. The ministry lost another outright. All the animals on these farms are still alive and healthy, Mr Neville said. MAFF won the other case and the animals were culled.

Comments pathetic

"His comments are pathetic. I think it is a bit rich for the government to turn around and blame farmers and solicitors for the delay when it is admitting it did not have a key power in place that it required. I never encouraged anybody to do anything. We provided legal advice. I am a lawyer not a campaigner."

In an additional statement Burges Salmon said ministers had had to justify the decision to cull animals on the basis of "reasonable belief" they had been exposed to the virus. The Animal Health Bill takes away that last "check on the powers of the state" and makes it irrelevant whether or not the animals have been exposed to the virus.

Too much slaughter

It says many people believe too much slaughter was part of the problem. "The result was unacceptable delays in the slaughter of infected animals that were capable of spreading the disease while healthy animals were being slaughtered," the statement said.

Mr Morley had claimed there were a number of instances where disease emerged on farms during the legal action by farmers resisting the cull. There were over 100 court cases in England alone, almost all of which the government won, he claimed.

"In many cases, the delay this caused allowed the disease to spread and more animals were culled than would have been the case," said Mr Morley. &#42