Foot-and-mouth claimants’ hopes dashed

Seven farmers who had their businesses devastated in the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2007 have had their claims for compensation rejected.

Although the farmers did not have livestock culled in the outbreak, they suffered financially because of movement restrictions and the loss of markets.

Their claim for hundreds of thousands of pounds of compensation was based on the fact that they were “first line victims” of the “wholly avoidable” outbreak which began at the government’s Pirbright research facility in Surrey.

The farmers, who come from as far afield as Kent, East Yorkshire, South Wales and Cumbria, said the 2007 outbreak was caused by an 80-year-old drainage system and “sub-standard” effluent treatment methods at the Pirbright site.

With the NFU backing their case they sued the site’s occupiers – the Institute of Animal Health and Merial Animal Health – along with DEFRA.

Had they won their cases, the floodgates would have been open for thousands of other livestock farmers, auctioneers and others who lost out as a result of the movement restrictions to lodge compensation claims.

However, High Court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat struck out their claims as having “no real prospect of success”.

Although he acknowledged that they had “suffered greatly”, he ruled that the law did not recognise claims for “pure economic loss”.

He added that the losses they suffered were not “proximate” enough to the seat of the outbreak to qualify for compensation and could not have been “reasonably foreseen” by the IAH, Merial or DEFRA.

“There is no connecting link, or ‘cattle trail’, in that there is nothing connecting livestock that is infected, or is suspected of being infected, and so liable to be slaughtered, with livestock that is not liable to be slaughtered,” Justice Tugendhat said.

“It follows that, in my judgment, the claimants have no real prospect of succeeding in their claim in negligence against any of the defendants,” he said.

Lawyers for the seven earlier told the judge it is “overwhelmingly likely” that the source of all their troubles was an 80-year-old drainage system at the Pirbright, where the IAH and Merial handled live strains of the foot-and-mouth disease virus.