GOVERNMENT WILL BE SUED OVER FOOT AND MOUTH CRISIS.
Lawyers claim action could have been taken earlier.
By Julian Whittle
Legal proceedings to sue the Government over its handling of the foot and mouth crisis are underway. London law firm Class Law is bringing the action on behalf of the UK Rural Business Campaign that lost money during the outbreak.
Class Law claims to have proof that the disease was prevalent long before the first case was confirmed last February, and says that officials were negligent in not acting sooner. The law firm believes that up to 50,000 businesses could be entitled to compensation.
Solicitor Wynne Edwards said: "The Government can't stop us like they blocked calls for a public inquiry. It's everybody's right to litigate.
"We would only litigate if we thought the case had considerable merit. It does.
"This is serious stuff. We are on the right trail. When we get to court the Government and everybody else will see how serious it is."
Class Law held a public meeting in Carlisle in December as part of its strategy to find potential litigants.The firm has instructed a barrister, Hilary Heilbron QC, and was serving a pre-action letter on Whitehall as Business Gazette went to press.
The Government has 14 days to respond. After that, lawyers will apply to the High Court for a group litigation order. The case is unlikely to come to court before the end of next year when Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown ill be called as witnesses.
Mr Edwards said: "The basis of the claim will be that during at latest January or early February the Ministry of Agriculture knew, or reasonably ought to have known, that animals were infected.
"The failure by the Government to identify in good time the presence of foot and mouth disease and to implement appropriate measures led to the consequences of the outbreak being far more severe than would otherwise have been the case."
Class Law will argue that the Government did not have an effective system of overall management in place and failed to follow the recommendations of investigations into previous foot and mouth outbreaks.
It will also say that staff were not properly briefed, communications between staff were inadequate, bio security measures were not adhered to, roads and paths were closed unnecessarily and that animal movements should have been banned sooner.
The law firm is inviting businesses to join its action. Those that join the action are being asked to contribute to the costs on a sliding scale.
Contact Class law Solicitors on 0207 724 25 26 or at www.classlaw.co.uk