15 March 2002

If court says No, we will

appeal – farmer group

By Johann Tasker

A GROUP of farmers says they will consider an appeal if High Court judges back the governments refusal to hold a public inquiry into foot-and-mouth.

Two High Court judges are expected to dismiss calls for a public inquiry into the origins and handling of the crisis when they deliver their judgement today (Fri). West Country law specialist Tim Russ, whose firm Clarke Willmott Clarke helped to win the judicial review, said he was pessimistic about its outcome.

Mr Russ told FARMERS WEEKLY: "We are not hopeful because of the way it went in court. In the event of failure we will consider an appeal. But we will need to study the full judgement before deciding if and how to lodge an appeal with the House of Lords."

Mr Russs misgivings were shared by eight claimants named in the judicial review which was heard at the High Court last month (News, Feb 22). Devon farmer Robert Persey, who farms near Honiton, said: "Im not expecting a favourable result because one of the two High Court judges was hostile to anything our QC said."

He added: "If a public inquiry is not permitted on what the government described as the worst crisis since World War II, it sets a precedent that any government can refuse a public inquiry on any disaster. If we lose we hope to find money from organisations that support our constitution to fund an appeal to the House of Lords."

Claimant Guy Thomas-Everard, who farms in Somerset, said: "Im not desperately hopeful of a successful outcome. During the case I got the vibe that the judges were nervous about [the possible consequences of holding] a public inquiry in the event of another outbreak of F&M. If we lose, the decision about whether or not to appeal will depend upon the judges ruling."

Cumbrian NFU county chairman Gordon Capstick, who farms at Milnthorpe, and lost £ thousands during F&M, said: "The ruling is vitally important because it is vital that the truth comes out. Either way, once the judgement comes through, we will sit down as a group and decide where we go from here."

A survey released this week found that most people think the government could do more in the wake of F&M. The ICM poll, commissioned by the Country Land and Business Association, shows that 62% of people across Britain believe more should be done to help rural areas recover from the epidemic.

The survey found that 30% of people living in the countryside knew of a rural business that had gone under or down-sized since the crisis began. But only 6% of people knew of one which had started up or expanded over the same period.

The ruling and reaction to the judgement will be reported our website &#42