Maff marksmen 'took potshots at fleeing calves'
By Jenny Booth Sunday 3 June 2001

THE RSPCA is investigating reports of a botched cull in Cumbria where two slaughtermen with rifles and four-wheel drive vehicles chased distressed calves around a field for three hours after their mothers had been shot.

Alan Alderson, the farmer at Barras Farm near Kirkby Stephen, said that the slaughtermen from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food arrived on Wednesday evening without adequate equipment and proceeded to make a mess of killing his herd of 25 cows, 25 calves, one bull and a pregnant cow.

Instead of penning the animals and killing them humanely, he said the men took potshots at them from their car window as, maddened with fear, they galloped all over the field. Neighbours and passersby who witnessed the cull condemned it as inhumane.

Francis Wilson, whose property at Swinstonewath is next door to Barras Farm, said: "They did all the big cattle and then had quite a problem rounding up all the calves. They started shooting at about 7pm and went on until it was dark."

Ann Alderson, of neighbouring Station House, said: "We saw a four-wheel drive vehicle racing around the field and a cow being chased, and my husband Johnnie saw two cows actually being shot from the vehicle. Those poor calves were just terrified. This is typical of the way Maff is working now. We got the impression that they were getting a bit of a kick out of it."

Jean Hutchinson, from Red Gate, Kaber, said: "They shot all the mothers and the calves were just rushing up and down. They are not wild animals and they should never be treated like that."

The herd was culled as a precaution after a Maff lorry carrying infected carcasses from a farm at Stricegill had passed along an unfenced road through their field.

A spokesman for Maff said that a complaint had been lodged and would be investigated. Circumstances for the cull had been "far from ideal", he added. "These were semi-wild animals on the farm, and the vet and the marksmen knew it was going to be a difficult job when they turned up. All but two were shot and killed instantaneously, and these two were killed by the second shot."

There was an outcry in April when a Maff slaughterman was recorded on video standing in a field taking potshots at a flock of sheep. The RSPCA, which said that the foot and mouth epidemic was no excuse for cruelty, said its investigation into this incident is still ongoing.

Maff said that there had been 1,680 confirmed cases of foot and mouth to date, with six new cases on Saturday. As of May 31 the estimated compensation costs stood at 738 million, of which 626 million has been paid to farmers.