Chinese win a 20,000 apology over epidemic

Daily Mail 2001

CHINESE restaurants have won 20,000 in compensation over stories that they were to blame for the foot-and- mouth crisis.

Takings at restaurants in Newcastle’s Chinatown fell by up to 40 per cent after It was claimed that the disease had been spread by pigswill from a Chinese restaurant using Illegally imported meat.

An ill-founded story in The Times suggested meat carrying the virus had been given to pigs on a farm at Heddon-on-theWall, In Northumberland.

For a Government facing condemnation for Its handling of the crisis, the reports were Initially something of a Godsend.

Ministers refused to simply deny the story for several days, bringing protests from the Chinese community.

Referring to the payout, Clint Woo of Newcastle’s Chinatown Traders’ Association, said: ‘We deserve It for the damage that was caused to our businesses by the unfounded rumours, which also caused threats and racist comments.’

He added: ‘Things have improved In the last few weeks, but there Is still prejudice and people have got out of the habit of coming here. We are going to use this money to attract people back here.’

The allegation first appeared in an exclusive front page story on March 27 and was eagerly taken up and repeated by the BBC as the lead Item on its radio and news bulletins.

The Times claimed the source was someone close to the then agriculture minister Nick Brown. The allegation was spiced up with claims that illegal meat had been found In a shipping container being sent from the Far East to a Chinese restaurant In Britain.

It was not until close to 1,000 chanting protesters from all over the country descended on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s Westminster’ headquarters demanding an apology that Ministers admitted the allegations were completely untrue. A flustered Mr Brown, holding a megaphone to be heard over the din, shouted reassurance to the protesters and Issued a categorical denial.

The cash is understood to be the only payout made under the 50 million foot-and-mouth compensation scheme because of damage to reputation.

Barry Speker, a Newcastle solicitor representing the Chinatown traders, said: ‘The rumours were very damaging and the Government wanted to do something to put It right.’

Part of the grant will be spent on hiring a public relations firm to promote the commercial hub of Tyneside’s 10,000 strong Chinese community.

The cash was claimed through One North East - the region’s regeneration body - backed by the Government’s rural regeneration fund, which was set up to compensate farmers and others who had suffered due to the crisis.

Tony Chu, 63, who owns the. Happiness Inn restaurant In Stowell Street, Newcastle, said his business had been directly affected by the smear.

He said: ‘This payout proves our Innocence and hopefully the moner will go some way to gaining back the community’s excellent reputation.’