Blunder claims 1,200 fit animals

May 2001

FRIENDS of a despairing farming family spoke of their devastation and
outrage last night after a Ministry of Agriculture computer error led to the
pointless slaughter of more than 1,200 healthy animals.

A MAFF spokesman said the cull at an uninfected North Yorkshire farm more
than three miles from the nearest outbreak was due to a faulty computer

Last night a friend of the father and son farmers, Robert and Philip
Metcalfe, of Otterburn Hall farm, near Settle, said: "They are heartbroken."

As the Settle crisis continued to grow with five new cases confirmed over
the weekend, a Sunday newspaper said Government sources had claimed farmers
were partly to blame for the spread of the disease in parts of North

But shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said the claims showed a Government
desperate to shift responsibility for

its own mishandling of the disaster.

He said: "The Government has been very incompetent in handling this
epidemic. They are keen now to pass the blame."

The slaughter of the healthy animals at Otterburn Hall farm followed a
mix-up of addresses, resulting in the accidental cull of 80 per cent of the

A friend of the family, who

did not wish to be named, said they were too distressed to talk about the
crisis and were

struggling to come to terms with the destruction of their thriving farm.

The tragic chain of events began when a Coniston Cold farm was found to be
infected with the disease.

The Metcalfe family had about 460 sheep and lambs in two fields close to the
infected farm, and MAFF officials told them they must be culled along with
1,100 sheep and 130 cows at the Otterburn farm more than three miles away.

The Metcalfes pleaded with officials to change their minds to no avail and
slaughter teams carried out the cull at Otterburn, then culled the stock at
Coniston Cold.

But when Philip Metcalfe asked about his 400-plus sheep on fields at Long
Preston and Settle, which are both closer to infected farms, he was told
they would be spared.

When he demanded an explanation, the Ministry admitted the Otterburn cull
had been an error, caused by a faulty computer programme which cut off part
of the instructions to officials.

The family friend said: "When they were first told there would be a cull,
Robert and Philip were heartbroken and just kept saying it seemed so unfair.
One of the animals shot was a lamb that was only three hours old, along with
cows that were in calf. The whole family just stayed together in the house
and were so upset.

"Now they have found out the whole thing was just a cock-up they are furious
as well. Philip had only just taken over the farm from his father.

"He's got a young family and now he's got to cope without an income for two

"They can't restock until the area is clear and if they miss the breeding
season this year it will be another year after that before they can start
selling animals again."