Farmers take to the barricades

Sunday Mail, April 22, 2001

Jo Knowsley

Police confiscate shotguns as rowin army of protesters refuse to let MAFF carry on the slaughter

BARRICADES have been put up by farmers in an open revolt against what they claim is the Government’s ‘killing frenzy’ of healthy livestock.

Many own sheep that have only recently been declared free of foot-and-mouth by vets from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and have since had no contact with any infected animals.

Ominously, a growing number of farmers are prepared to fight. One said: ‘There is a lot of anger at what MAFF has done and the feeling that enough is enough.’

The anger of farmers, pitched against the determination of MAFF to exterminate thousands more animals, raises the spectre of armed stand-offs across the countryside between the Army and landholders who say they will go to prison rather than back down.

In Cumbria, police revealed last week that they had seized five guns from farms in Penrith, Daiston, Bassenthwaite, Wigton and Plumpton after farmers had made phone threats, or had face to face confrontations with officials visiting their farms. Superintendent Brian Horn, in charge of police foot-and-mouth operations in the county, acknowledged that tension was mounting.

He said: ‘The fact that we are still dealing with incidents of this kind illustrates that feelings are running very high. While the feelings of the farmers are understandable, threats to life are not acceptable.’

Last week, a group of Gloucestershire villagers took on MAFF in defence of 160 healthy animals at Oaklands Park community farm, which is run by Camphill Village ‘frust for adults with learning difficulties. The animals were due to be slaughtered on Thursday after a case of foot-and-mouth was confirmed on a neighbouring property.

But after more than 100 protesters refused to allow MAFF on to the property the Ministry dropped its plans to seek an injunction to grant the slaughterers right of entry.

Simultaneously, a group of organic farmers known as ‘The Anglesey Seven’ were preparing to do battle in London’s High Court to save 100 healthy sheep.

Solicitors were to have argued on Friday that the slaughter would have infringed the farmers’ human and civil rights, but MAFF asked for a postponement and the hearing is now due to go ahead this week.

One farmer said: ‘We are in an area which has had no infection since March 25.1 can’t say what the others are doing but we have chained and padlocked our gates and parked a car in front so that you have to climb over it to get in. We’re not giving in without a fight.’

As The Mail on Sunday can reveal today, it is a revolution that is gathering pace. On the one side is MAFF, which is determined to continue the slaughter and is backed by police and the Army. On the other are farmers who say that the Ministry’s ‘strong arm tactics’ will be met with equally vigorous resistance.

More than 230 farmers in Cumbria refused to surrender their sheep on March 29 when MAFF introduced a voluntary cull. But the Ministry has now told them that if they do not give in their animals will be classed as dangerous contacts and slaughtered on the farm.

A spokesman for MAFF’ insisted that the ongoing cull was necessary to eradicate the disease. And he maintained that the Ministry was still taking a ‘softly softly’ approach.

He said: ‘We have tried to co-operate with farmers and the majority of them support our actions. We still want to treat the issue sensitively and win their co-operation where possible.’

But he conceded that without their permission, the Ministry had no legal right to enter farmers’ land or take livestock. ‘If we are refused entry we have to get an injunction,’ he said. ‘We have no right of forced entry.’ However, Pauline Scott, of Crookiands Farm, Dearham, Cumbria, accused the Ministry of intimidating farmers. She said: ‘The only voluntary aspect about this seems to be where we have the sheep killed.’

John Sanders, who farms 200 sheep south of Penrith, has padlocked his gates and is refusing to co-operate with the Government after a series of ‘confusing and nonsensical messages’.

He said: ‘The nearest outbreak to us was 32 days ago. The animals were killed and burned a couple of days later. My sheep were given a clean bill of health at the start of April by a vet who was working for MAFF, but then in a complete turnaround I got a letter saying that if I don’t put them into a voluntary cull they will be shot in front of me on my land.

‘It makes no sense at all. More than a million sheep have been killed in Cumbria throughout the nine weeks of the epidemic. It’s as if the Government is caught in a killing frenzy and doesn’t know when to stop.’

Tom Lowther, 35, who farms 700 sheep on a hill farm near Penrith is also refusing to let MAFF on to his land and has had offers from villagers and neighbouring farmers of vehicles and ‘muscle-power’ to help defend. his property.

‘Everyone’s talking about what can be done,’ he said. ‘There is a lot of anger at what MAFF has done and the feeling that enough is enough.’

Two popular Cumbrian animal sanctuaries — the Animal Refuge and Hospital at Wetheral Shields near Carlisle and the Knoxwood Wildlife ‘frust, near Wigton — have joined the stand-off with George Scott of Knoxwood threatening to barricade his property.

He said: ‘We will do whatever we have to do and have many friends who are willing to do a 24-hour stand at our gate. There is no law that says MAFF can come in here and just slaughter our animals.’

In Devon,’ where Hector Christie, 39, keeps nine Highland cattle and 12 Black Berkshire pigs on his holding and tourist attraction Tapeley Park, he and other farmers have grown increasingly defiant.

Mr Christie allowed a MAFF vet to visit and certify his livestock as clean earlier last week. But he refused to let them return every other day, for checks, on the grounds that this increased the risk of his animals catching the virus.

‘I have padlocked and chained the gates and have a huge sign outside which reads "Cull MAFF",’ he said. ‘I know it sounds extreme but like a lot of people around here I have had it. I really don’t care what they do to me, or threaten to do to me.

‘I’m ready for a fight. And I have plenty of people who’ll back me up. The only way they’ll get my livestock is if they take me out in chains and cart me off to prison.’ In the Forest of Dean an action group has been set up to defend 35 farms which have been served Section A notices to cull all livestock. Smaliholder Pat Innocent, of Lydbrook, who has 11 sheep and eight lambs, is refusing to let MAFF in. Mrs Innocent said: ‘I have no confidence in MAFF. The decisions are being made by men who don’t understand the countryside.’

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