18 May 2001
Lawyers prepare disease cash test

By Alistair Driver

LAWYERS are finalising details of a legal case that could pave the way for a huge compensation claim against MAFF from farmers who lost animals in the foot-and-mouth cull.

Somerset lawyer Tim Russ says the government could have to pay out millions of pounds in damages to farmers if the test case he is preparing succeeds.

MAFF statistics show over four million animals have been slaughtered because of foot-and-mouth.

But industry sources say this figure could be as high as eight million, as MAFF has not accounted for all the animals slaughtered on suspicion and as contiguous cases.

Many farmers who lost healthy animals want to sue and have contacted lawyers.

Mr Russ, of Taunton solicitors Clarke, Willmott and Clarke, says much rests on a test case involving a Devon pig producer who lost his animals in the cull.

“I am one week away from being able to present MAFF with the preliminary letter of claim,” said Mr Russ.

If the case is successful – he gives it a “50-50 chance” – it will pave the way for a group action, he says.

He believed MAFF has contravened the EU Animal Health directive.

“The directive only allows the government to monitor contiguous animals to see if they are infected, not to cull them.”

He claimed MAFF has based its policy on domestic legislation, which is overridden by EU law.

The legal basis for the governments actions have also been questioned by Plymouth law firm, Bevan Ashford.

Agricultural law specialist Tim Howells said the UKs statutes may conflict with EU legislation.

The exact status of the EU directives has yet to be resolved, he said.

“Some of the actions taken appear to be outside of either set of legislation and may well give farmers the right to seek compensation,” he said.

He also questioned whether “the perceived inadequacies of the governments response to the outbreak” could justify legal claims for compensation.

Worcester farmers Nicola and Andy Morris, from Tibberton, have launched a group, Farmers for Livestock, which plans to co-ordinate legal action.

Mrs Morris said farmers are furious MAFF gave the impression they had to comply with the cull. Some farmers did successfully resist the cull.

A MAFF spokeswoman said the ministry checked the legal implications of before embarking on the cull policy.

“The dangerous contacts were slaughtered on expert advice that there was a real risk of infection,” she said.

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