13 March 2001
Human cost of foot-and-mouth

By Alistair Driver

FARMERS caught up in Britains foot-and-mouth crisis have been urged to seek outside help after a livestock producer was found hanged in Shropshire.

Friends of Brian Oakley, of Llanfechain, near Oswestry, said he committed suicide after being isolated because of restrictions imposed to contain the disease.

Support groups warned that other farmers may also contemplate taking their own lives after Mr Oakleys funeral which took place on Monday (12 March).

Shropshire Rural Stress Network said it had put some farmers in touch with emergency funds so they could afford to keep their businesses afloat.

“Many of our callers are obviously concerned about the welfare of animals and finances to look after farm, stock and families,” said a spokeswoman.

Tension is running high in other parts of the country. Stress counsellors are receiving up to 20 times the usual number of inquiries from rural callers.

Foot-and-mouth could prove to be the last straw after a prolonged period of hardship, said Caroline Davies director of the Rural Stress Information Network.

Mrs Davies described news of Mr Oakleys suicide as desperate. She added: “But one cannot be surprised under the circumstances.”

The stress was immense for farmers who are waiting for the results of tests on livestock suspected of carrying the disease, she added.

Additional distress on infected farms is being caused by delays between animals being slaughtered and burned or taken away for incineration.

Mrs Davies said farmers were also concerned about animal welfare problems caused by movement restrictions and getting feed to livestock.

Anyone who feels pushed to the brink by the crisis should take advantage of the army of people who want to help, she said.

“It is important to realise that a suicidal thought is an impulse that will pass. Research has shown it is not something that will be sustained.”

Mrs Davies said she had met London-based government officials to try and get the true human cost of the crisis over to them in a bid to obtain more help.

She called on the government to offer crisis loans to affected people and said rural helplines were being kept open for 24-hours a day wherever possible.

The church-based Farm Crisis Network is trying to reach every affected farmer, said dairy farmer Brian Warren, local group co-ordinator for Devon.

The Addington fund is raising money for rural workers and farmers.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute said donations to its emergency fund had increased by 150,000 since the beginning of March.

It is now providing financial support for farmers beyond the usual domestic expenses it provides to cover essential expenditure resulting from the crisis.

Police in Devon have removed guns from farmers on the brink of suicide. At least five farmers agreed to give up their shotguns until the crisis passes.

Listening ear – people with time to talk
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage