Archive Article: 2000/05/19

19 May 2000

Martin case judge had no choice

I suppose it was inevitable that you would receive comment from individuals who disagreed with the outcome of the Tony Martin murder trial. Moreover I was interested to learn that two letters (May 5) supported Mr Martin and had difficulty in accepting that a murder had taken place.

As a lawyer in the agricultural sector (albeit not in the criminal law), I wonder how many people understand the implications of what Mr Martin did on the day in question. Surely no one could condone the use of a firearm other than for the purpose intended – sport. Those of us who hold shotgun certificates or firearms certificates know how difficult it is, and will become, to retain our sport. The nation paid a colossal price for the Dunblane incident which was the act of a single individual. Balanced and reasonable firearms users throughout the country lost their right to small arms sport.

The human dimension of the Martin incident deprived a human being of his life using a firearm. This country has for centuries held property more sacred than human life and our statute books are full of examples where the penalty for violation of property is greater than violation of human beings. The victim at that isolated Norfolk farmhouse may well have had wrongful intent in the context of burglary but an attack on property does not justify a fatal attack on a human being. The victims background is irrelevant.

Mr Martins defence was that he acted in reasonable self-defence. But self-defence relates only to a charge of murder and it either succeeds or it fails. If it succeeds, there is an acquittal and if it fails, there is a conviction. If there is a conviction, the trial judge must follow the law (decreed by parliament) and pass a life sentence; his hands are tied. There is much talk of manslaughter but manslaughter was never pleaded by Tony Martin.

Many lawyers, myself included, feel that the mandatory life sentence for murder should be done away with and the matter of the appropriate sentence left to the trial judge.

David J Douglas

76 Westgate Place, Louth, Lincs.

Sugar beet deal a real shambles

What another fine mess the NFU has got us into. After the debacle of the assured crops scheme, we now face the fiasco of the so-called sugar beet deal. For a reward of a miserable 40p/t, growers and hauliers are being forced to work 16 hours per day, 7 days a week to deliver beet to the factory.

The huge cost, together with the environmental impact on small villages en route to the factories cannot have sank in with growers. Hauliers have advised growers that the increased cost of working out of hours will be passed on. The extra hours will add a huge bill to an already beleaguered industry. British Sugar should keep its tops and crowns and its 40p/t. Scrap this ridiculous proposal, and lets return to the status quo and allow sanity to prevail.

Shropshire farmer

Name and address supplied.

NFU must grab the thistle

FW has been supportive of the idea of linking producers returns, in part, to the end users price rather than to the vagaries of the middlemens margins. Earlier this year, you allowed me to contribute a Talking Point (Jan 21) along those lines.

The response has been interesting but one overwhelming theme emerges. The NFU has to change if it is to continue as the major representative body of the farm industry.

It is trying to be all things to all farmers and failing at most of them. It has to split off the activities that are the natural remit of a trade association and either decide to concentrate on those, or as an extra, commercial activity, become a leader/facilitator in the struggle to add value to commodities.

If it decides on the first priority, it can remain at the leading edge in the political debate and provide all the help to its members which flow from that position. The effect on its outgoings and physical structure would be dramatic but it would have a defined role and its successes would be apparent and rewarded.

If it wants the additional role then it will have to appoint a commercial head and the two operations should meet only at president level.

The responses to my article tell me that the NFU has no clue as to the commercial realities it and its members face. It is incapable of reacting to the changing market because it has neither the right men at the top nor staff with the background, training or quality to undertake commercial activity.

Will the membership wake up and demand a conference, not the annual stage show, to give the NFU a new direction? Or must those of us who wish it well but are beginning to despair remain silent while the industry implodes through lack of leadership?

The challenge is to create an organisation that can embrace the cold wind of the marketplace. To create a body that is respected by government but which also provides access and support to the commercial activities that have to be put in place if we are ever to escape from being commodity producers.

D Hill

Okehampton, Devon.

Real truth on organic farming

Organic wheat yielding 4.9t/ha at £200/t; what a rosy picture Mr Wherry (Letters, May 5) paints. What are we waiting for?

Of course, he did not tell us the whole story. He forgot to mention that it takes five years to move from conventional farming to organic. He also did not tell us that wheat is grown only on a three-year rotation and, of course, there is always quality to consider.

Apart from the usual set-aside, grass is necessary and to use this, cattle must be kept and, at present, they are losing money. So his £400/acre from his wheat crop spread over three years would look poor indeed.

Many wealthy people have ventured down this road, but most of them do not have to rely on farming for a living. We are conventional farmers, but we do pay due regard to wildlife and try to enhance this bleak area with trees and hedges. We do not blast the guts out of everything that flies in the autumn.

E W Bell

Wingland Grange Cottage, Terrington St Clement, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

New Labour in for nasty shock

The ongoing exodus from British farms and the fact that the average age of all farmers is over 55 is a disgrace.

If New Labour, of which I am a member, thinks it will have the huge support it gained at the last general election, then the farm minister and his Cabinet colleagues better think again. The former permanent secretary of MAFF has gained a knighthood and an excellent pension and a package of financial compensation. I would like to know how would he like to suffer a rural failure?

John E. Willett

14 Eastgate Road Holmes Chapel Cheshire.

Best lupin work carries on

I read with interest your editorial about the lupin crop (Opinion and Arable, Apr 21). You are right, the lupin crop is a serious contender on UK farms, and a real market exists for the protein-rich feed produced. Lupin is a broad term used to describe all members of the genus Lupinus and it is important to make the distinction between the different types of lupins.

The only varieties supported by comprehensive independent research are the autumn-sown determinate white lupins. The agronomic and physiological research is funded by MAFF, EU and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council??? at IACR Rothamsted and at the Institut de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France. The different lupins exhibit different feeding qualities, however, the feeding studies carried out by ADAS and SAC over the past 10 years have used exclusively white lupins.

During the mid 80s, seed merchants importing varieties directly from eastern Europe caused the lupin lunacy to which you refer. Varieties such as Kiev Mutant and Vladamir were untested in the UK, and it soon became obvious that their indeterminate growth habit made them unsuited to our conditions.

The lupin crop in the UK is at a critical point in its development. We have available a range of autumn-sown determinate white lupin varieties that are fully tested in the UK and underpinned by an extensive knowledge-base which is available free.

That creates the opportunity to introduce the first truly new crop to the UK for many years. However, we are also seeing a range of spring-sown varieties imported from eastern Europe. They are unsupported by any knowledge-base and are often misleadingly described. That serves only to create the opportunity of repeating the mistakes of the past.

The work at IACR Rothamsted has incorporated a search for potentially suitable spring-sown lupins. However, none can be recommended at present. In Denmark, where the summers are similar to those in the UK, the search for the most appropriate spring-sown varieties also continues, but, so far, none can be recommended.

Ian Shield

IACR Rothamsted, Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

Must be up to UK standards

In Philip Richardsons letter (Apr 21) he refers to the little red tractor and British farm standard logo as identifying the origin of produce as British. The point that is not made is that in order for the logo not to be regarded as anti-competitive, and therefore unlawful by the European Commission, it must be open for other EU producers to use it on their produce. That is provided the product can achieve the equivalent standard to that which constitutes the British Farm Standard on similar produce.

Sally Stanyer

Barker Gotelee, 41 Barrack Square, Martlesham Heath, Ipswich.

Chickens, wheat and kangaroos

UK wheat producers cannot be compared with those of the USA, Canada or Australia (Features, Feb 25 and Letters, Mar 10 and Apr 14). In all countries, there will be some exceptionally good farmers, while others will be hopeless. What makes a country different is the circumstances. It may be the high value of the currency, but mostly the climatic advantages or disadvantages. That is why farmers migrated only when the returns were much higher than at present.

Where big wheat exporting countries need only 1t/ha to break-even (with wheat at £64) even the UKs most efficient producers needs more than 8t/ha. Trying to compare the two is, as Mr Scales says, like comparing chickens with kangaroos.

T Thain

Lower Fant Road, Maidstone, Kent.

Battling rats no cheap business

I write regarding Mr Drakes letter (Apr 21) Health at Risk from Rats. I have a small rodent business and this year, farmers and householders are telling me they have never had such a problem with the quantity of rats as they have experienced last winter.

Unfortunately, conscientious farmers and householders who try to rid their premises of rodents may find they are doing so at considerable cost. In effect they are having to control a whole neighbourhood of rats. That can amount to several hundred being killed by trapping and shooting, plus a large quantity killed by poisoning from one premises alone.

There is no government help available towards the considerable cost farmers and householders can incur in the seemingly never-ending battle to rid this country of these disease-laden rodents.

On reflection, the way farming affairs are conducted at government level they may well put rats on the protection list.

Gerald Warnes

47 High Road, Needham Harleston, Norfolk.

Right to roam has positives

I was disappointed to read Anthony Prices pessimistic outlook (News, April 28) for the freedom to roam in Wales.

The new legislation will allow the public to walk only on specific, mapped areas of open, uncultivated land, subject to strong safeguards to protect agriculture, wildlife and the environment. These safeguards are laid out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, and anyone failing to adhere to them will be treated as a trespasser. Public rights and responsibilities in the countryside will therefore be much clearer.

Meanwhile, greater access to the countryside looks set to have widespread benefits for the Welsh economy. A recent report by Prof Peter Midmore of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, concluded that better access to rural amenities, through a legal right to roam and improvements to the footpath network, could lead to much-needed new Welsh jobs.

The freedom to roam is great news for Welsh people, town and country dwellers alike. Once the legislation has been implemented successfully in Wales, I sincerely hope that Mr Price will come to see it as a positive step for our country.

Beverley Penney

Director, RA Wales, Tyr Cerddwyr, High Street, Gresford, Wrexham.

Gangs stealing dogs for abroad

I would be grateful if you could draw your readers attention to the fact that hundreds of dogs are being stolen annually in this country. Most are taken from properties with exposed boundaries such as farms. All types of breeds are stolen, the most popular being gundogs.

The theory was that, in nearly all cases, travellers were responsible but, from information received, it appears that organised gangs are operating a very well planned scam. We believe that the dogs are ending up abroad possibly in Spain, Southern Ireland, Japan, America or Europe. They are being stolen for a variety of reasons. The dogs are nearly always pedigree, young and entire. If your readers would like to discuss this matter my telephone number is 01903 772176.

June Bailey

PO Box 3058, Littlehampton, West Sussex.

BSE is blunder of science

I was pleased to see your article (Features, Apr 7) on alternative theories about the development of BSE. As a beef farmer and contributor to the BSE Inquiry, I have become concerned that important evidence to the Inquiry was not being reported in the media. The most important element that was missing from the Inquiry was proper representation for farming. I believe that BSE is a blunder of science but farming has taken the punishment.

The most relevant fact revealed to me during the Inquiry has been the use of bovine tissues in injectable products. If BSE can transfer by being eaten, then its ability to transfer by injection has to be greater.

The next logical task is to consider which tissues have been used where and in what situations. Evidence to the Inquiry shows there was concern over a high risk practice; the use of pituitary extracted hormones. Before the emergence of BSE, it had been realised that cadaveric human pituitary extracted growth and fertility hormones, used to treat restricted growth in that children and fertility in women, had spread CJD to the recipients. The same practices were being undertaken in animals, in fact sheep, cow and pig pituitary hormones had been injected into many species offering an effective method of disease transfer. If that practice did not spread BSE, it is unlikely bovine tissues used in heat treated vaccines would evoke a problem, first, by transfer within species, second, across a species barrier.

If theres no correlation between these practices and BSE, we should consider other causes. OPs are prime candidates since research shows they can adversely affect hormones in their breakdown process, interfering with signalling and transcription. But hormones are just one of many biochemical pathways disrupted by OPs which would have an exacerbating effect on neurological/immunological disease processes.

One of the biggest failings in the BSE scandal has been the monitoring of adverse reactions to pharmaceuticals and chemicals used on farms. It is well documented by shepherds and farmers poisoned by OPs. Yet the system placed them in extraordinary denial from the organisations set up to monitor, recognise, record and correct the dangers. With this known situation for humans, what chance is there of achieving recognition for their animals, as is the case with BSE.

Joanna Wheatley

Long Lane Farm, Touchen End, Maidenhead,

What is wrong with UK flag?

When I think of Abraham Lincoln, I think of a great President of the United States, a lawyer who espoused good causes, and an opponent of evils such as slavery. Reading this anecdote reminded me recently of the controversy surrounding the British tractor food logo.

A friend took Lincoln to see an acclaimed canvas by an indifferent artist. He looked at the picture and commented, "The painter is very good and observes the Lords Commandments. I think that he hath not made to himself a likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth!"

That quote is particularly appropriate for the new British food logo. Why dont we use the British flag as the logo? It is widely known all around the world?

Walter Weston

Swansturn, 23 West Bank, Carlton, Snaith, Goole, East Yorks.

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