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Left to bear the scars for decades to come The Journal Oct 27 2001

Community aims to win compensation By Robert Brooks

At first glance, it looks like many other places in the heart of the Northumberland countryside - small close-knit villages clustered round one another, a dotting of farms amid the open fields, and the occasional reminders of a once-thriving coal industry.

But the area around the villages of Widdrington and nearby Widdrington Station have something which makes it different It has been left to bear the scars of an agricultural catastrophe for decades to come, a legacy which haunts every person living there and which has sown the seeds of fear for their own and their children's health in years to come

Six long months at the forefront of foot-and-mouth disposal operations - a burial pit and a pyre site - has seen the community change irreversibly Where there has always been a resilient cheerfulness and willingness to accept adversity, a trait learned the hard way during the tough days of the coalmines, there is now also a deep distrust of authority Widdrington gained its new and infamous recognition on April 1, when emergency planners at what was then the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, announced that a site near the Chevington Opencast would be ideal for the disposal of tens of thousands of dead animals Nearby Hemscott Hill, near the beautiful sandy shore of Druridge Bay, would also become a burning site

Lorraine Donaldson has vivid memories of those early days She said: "They started burning carcases to the rear of my house before we had been given any official warning. The mother of two, who lives at Lintonburn Park in Widdrington Station with daughters Sophie and Charlotte, added: "I only found out from a friend that there were diggers at what was soon to be the burial site next to the village. I was stunned "We suffered the direct effects of the smoke from those burning animals and, at first, had no idea about the potential effects "It was only when people realised what a total fiasco the entire operation was that we started to really worry about what was true and what was not. The fear, she says, is that their children will bear the legacy of foot-and-mouth in the decades to come She added: "I moved to a rural area because I wanted to give my daughters a better environment to grow up in than a town or city. The actions of those in authority have robbed my children of that choice. They didn't ask anyone here about their concerns - they just went ahead and did it anyway "There are still questions which have not fully been addressed, and only a full and independent public inquiry will give us those answers we need. Out of every negative comes a positive, she believes "Never again will anyone be able to come to Widdrington and dump their waste on our doorstep," she says

James Grant is another Widdrington resident who found himself thrust into the fray He eventually stood as a borough councillor during the summer elections, and has dedicated himself to lobbying for compensation for all the communities affected He said: "Widdrington has been the dumping ground for everything other places didn't want on their doorsteps.

He added: "We fought and won against plans to build a nuclear power station at Druridge Bay, we fought sand extraction there, and we have fought repeated attempts to extend the opencast mining

"The fight is on now to win the compensation which the whole community was promised. So far we haven't seen a penny of it - but we'll keep fighting for what is our right.

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