8 May 2001
Gill accuses Whitehall of ‘dirty tricks’

By FWi staff

BEN GILL, president of the National Farmers Union, claims he was target of a government “dirty tricks” campaign at the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Mr Gill said he was also the victim of a campaign by upper-class farmers urging him to support a vaccination programme rather than mass slaughter.

The NFU president made the claims in an interview with The Times. Government officials had tried to undermine him, he said.

Mr Gill was seen by the country as the hurdle that put paid to government plans to vaccinate cattle in Cumbria and possibly Devon, the paper says.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and chief scientific adviser Professor David King had made it clear they wanted to vaccinate livestock against foot-and-mouth.

But they insisted it would only be possible with the co-operation of farmers, and Mr Gill remained steadfast in his opposition.

As he battled the government, Mr Gills hair turned grey and fell out, and he lost half a stone. “There was an attempt to portray me as a bully,” he said.

Mr Gill also talked of a co-ordinated campaign which had been orchestrated at the “highest levels” by the land-owning aristocracy in favour of vaccination.

Mr Gill said he was not against vaccination per se, and could conceive of situations where it would be appropriate.

“But to go into blanket vaccinations, it was a recipe for disaster for trade and the livestock industry,” he told the paper.

Lady Emma Tennant, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and mother of the model Stella Tennant, confirmed she was behind a campaign to pressurise the NFU.

She told The Times she wrote to 100 friends urging them to lobby the NFU and the government to back vaccination instead of slaughter.

Lady Emma told the paper that the NFU was “very undemocratic” in its failure to consult its own members on the issue of vaccination.

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