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Defra under fire after BSE case verdict


THE High Court in London has condemned the "manifestly unfair" way the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs treated a farming couple suspected of breaking anti-BSE feed rules with their beef herd.

In one of the strongest critical judgments to be given against a government department, a senior judge criticised Defra’s "inexcusable" behaviour, following suspicions that the couple had fed pet food, containing ingredients banned to ruminants, to their herd.

Laurence and Rachel Banks were the victims of "procedural unfairness" after Defra "failed to tell them the true nature of the case against them, thus preventing them from mounting an effective answer to it," said Mr Justice Sullivan.

He ordered Defra to undertake a fresh review of the case and called on the department to develop new procedures to protect the interests of farmers in any similar cases in the future.

Mr and Mrs Banks, who spent more than £69,000 on their successful legal battle, welcomed the ruling and said they intended seeking damages from Defra of at least £70,000.

The couple owned and ran three farms in Kent. At one of them, Flintstones, on 13 September, 2002, a movement restriction notice was served on their herd of 247 cattle.

Tests carried out after Kent County Council trading standards officers went to the farm were said to reveal the presence of small quantities of "animal products" - banned under anti-BSE rules - in a feeding trough and in a dung sample.

The judge said: "A large beef herd built up over many years has been effectively condemned upon the basis of no more than an inspector’s suspicion they had been fed prohibited material."

The judge said that Defra had been evasive and "passed the buck" to the council. He said he was considering further submissions before deciding on awarding costs.