25 February 2000

Trial starts for Irish farmer facing BSE fraud accusations

A FARMER has gone on trial in the Irish Republic accused of deliberately bringing a BSE-infected cow on to his farm so the whole herd would be slaughtered and he could claim thousands of £ in compensation.

James Sutton, aged 58, who farms in Clonakilty, County Cork, pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to defraud the Department of Agriculture of IR£75,000 (£58,594). Two other local men, accused of having been involved in the alleged conspiracy, are to be tried separately.

The Circuit Criminal Court in Cork was told that the trial was likely to take at least six weeks and involve more than 200 witnesses. The case has big implications for Irelands policy of total herd slaughter to fight BSE aimed at reassuring overseas customers. Because of the importance of the IR£2bn-a-year beef industry to the Irish economy, when one animal is found to be infected, all cattle in the same herd are destroyed and the farmer is compensated at market prices.

The "market value" compensation scheme carries obvious temptations for unscrupulous farmers at a time of falling prices but the current case is the first to reach the courts.

Counsel John Edwards, prosecuting, said that Mr Sutton had deliberately bought a BSE-infected animal – he did not say from where – and put it into his herd. He had already brought in an extra 60 cattle to boost herd numbers and then called a vet and asked him "to examine his sick cow".

The vet confirmed BSE and the whole herd was slaughtered, said Mr Edwards. But Department officials later became suspicious about the origins of the diseased animal. It had no horns, while the identification papers for the animal stated that it had a full set of horns when examined a year earlier.

According to counsel, the suspicions were heightened when it was discovered that the infected cow had marks indicating a relatively new ear-tag, despite the fact that it was five years old and should have been tagged after birth.

The Department, he said, then called in the Gardai Irish police.

In the past four years, almost 60,000 animals have been slaughtered in Ireland under the BSE regulations, with a compensation pay-out of over IR£50m. The policy has been so effective that the Irish Republic has only had a confirmed total of just over 450 BSE cases since the disease first emerged. Those cases are blamed mainly on imported animals and imported feed. &#42