Foot and mouth farmers win settlement

A group of farmers hit by foot and mouth disease in 2007 has won an out-of-court settlement from the research institutes where the virus was leaked.

The Institute of Animal Health and Merial Animal Health, did not admit liability at the High Court hearing which began on Monday 23 February, but settled the claims from seven farmers who had livestock culled in the outbreak.

The cases of a second group of  seven farmers, however, are still being contested by the two research facilities and co-defendant DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn as licensor and regulator of site.

The second group is made up of farmers from as far afield as Cumbria, Powys and Yorkshire.

The farmers in these areas claim to have suffered financial losses due to disease restrictions and not from the direct culling to tackle the disease.

They have alleged that DEFRA and the Pirbright facilities were negligent in allowing the disease to escape.

The challenge is backed by the NFU and centres on the site’s 80-year-old drains where the virus leak began. The virus was then transported to a nearby farm on the wheels of vehicles which had been at the site carrying out maintenance work.

The farmers’ counsel Richard Lissack QC told Mr Justice Tugendhat that all three defendants had been aware of the ‘inadequate’ state of the drains for a number of years before the virus leak.

He added that the disease outbreak was foreseeable and that there had been a ‘dangerous state of affairs’ at Pirbright but nothing had been done to rectify it.

Mr Lissack said that even though the second group of farmers had not had their livestock culled, they were still ‘first line victims’ who should be paid damages.

The challenge has been countered by the defendants’ lawyers on the grounds that there is no provision in the law for them to be compensated.