From Private Eye 16th March 2007 Muckspreader' Until last month David Dobbin, 43, of Backford near Chester was the owner of a 567 strong dairy herd which represented his entire livelihood. Several of his cows had won prizes and the herd's value was well over half a million pounds.
In 2005 DEFRA officials inspected the voluminous documentation required for his cattle under EEC rules, including "passports" and numbered ear tags for each animal, and found what they claimed to be a number of unspecified irregularities. Instead of discussing how these could be sorted out, DEFRA last November asked Cheshire Trading Standards officials to seize all his passports, making it illegal for him to remove any animal off his farm and virtually wiping out his income.
Last month the officials removed his entire herd to another farm elsewhere in Cheshire, stating that it was their intention to destroy all 567 animals. Their authority, they claimed, was an EC Regulation 494/98, issued at the height of the BSE panic. This lays down that "if the keeper of an animal cannot prove its identification within two working days, it shall be destroyed without delay under the supervision of the veterinary authorities, and without compensation from the competent authorities". Although these powers given to ministry officials were quite unprecedented, the regulation only permitted them to destroy animals which could not be identified. DEFRA has never claimed that the paperwork for most of Mr Dobbin's cows was not in order.
Thanks to his Liverpool lawyers, Kirwans, Mr Dobbin managed to get a High Court injunction, giving his cows a stay of execution less than an hour before the slaughter was due to begin. He also won leave from Mr Justice Goldring for a judicial review on the grounds that DEFRA was acting way beyond its legal powers. But at the beginning of this month DEFRA insisted that, unless Mr Dobbin could prove the identification of every single one of his cows, they must still all be destroyed. Since all his cattle passports - the most obvious means of identification - had been confiscated, this was impossible. The officials said he would instead have to provide DNA identification for each animal within two days, which would have been physically impossible - not least because the cows had all been moved to another location which Mr Dobbin was not allowed access.
On 6 March therefore, the High Court had no choice but to give DEFRA's officials permission to proceed with the slaughter. The need for this was particularly urgent, they said, because they did not have the resources to look after or milk the cattle properly, and this was causing severe "animal welfare" problems. When informed of the judge's decision over the phone, Mr Dobbin burst into tears and on 7 March the destruction of his cattle began.
All that he can hope for now is that the judicial review, set for nine months' time, might at least confirm that DEFRA acted beyond its powers. But, in the meantime, this is scant consolation for the sight of his entire life and livelihood going up in smoke just because DEFRA's officials have been so zealous in exercising for the first time powers greater than that given to any British officials before them. For the pleasure of ruining a man's life and killing nearly 600 healthy animals, it must be a small price to pay.
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