Slaughter of the innocents Army threatened cull farm family with house arrestv

May 6, 2001 Sunday Telegraph (London) by Christopher Booker

At his press conference on Thursday Mr Blair may have been particularly "unctuous", as The Times put it, in thanking all the vets, soldiers and ministry officials who had helped him to resolve the foot and mouth crisis in time for his election. However he may not have been aware why, for thousands of farming families, these past weeks have been a nightmare that they will never forget, and which for many is far from over.

Not untypical has been the experience of David and Sue Massie, who farm with Mr Massie's brother and parents at Church Eaton, Staffordshire, and who at one point were threatened by the army with house arrest if they contacted the media over the awful scenes that had surrounded the slaughter of nearly 2,000 animals on their farm which were wrongly suspected of being diseased.

The Massie family's ordeal began at the end of March, when Hall Farm, on the family estate of the Earl of Bradford, was visited by an Australian vet working for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who admitted he had never seen a case of foot and mouth in his life. He inspected the farm's two cattle and 1,500 pigs and found them healthy, but when he looked at some of the farm's 600 sheep he noticed that two had "little red dots" on their gums. He rang Maff officials at Page Street in London, who gave the sheep "the benefit of the doubt". But when the vet returned next day and found a ewe with blisters on her feet, he ordered the destruction of every animal on the farm. That night the Massies watched 26 ewes give birth, and next morning the killing began.

The following day, while slaughtermen were herding the pigs into a trailer 20 to 30 at a time to be shot with captive bolts, they ran out of cartridges. They then began blasting at the pigs with 12-bore shotguns, smashing a window of Mr Massie's tractor which cost pounds 600 to repair. The slaughter continued until 10 o'clock that night, and next day the Maff team returned to bury the mountain of corpses in a field. But two weeks later, on April 12, two Maff officials appeared to say that the burial site was "weeping" and that the bodies would have to be dug up and reburied.

Mr Massie, whose family has occupied Hall Farm for 70 years, was so angry that next day, Good Friday, he rang the Earl of Bradford, who in turn contacted the local BBC television programme Midlands Today. When a crew arrived to start filming a digger which was reburying the animals, being careful to keep off "infected" land, the Maff officials objected and called in the army.

Within 10 minutes two Land Rovers appeared, with six soldiers, who ordered the cameraman to stop filming and strip to his underwear. They put his clothes in a bag, to be disinfected, gave him an overall and told the BBC crew to leave, closing the road past the farm with sandbags.

Mr Massie says that when he asked the soldiers why they had come: "They said that they were working for Maff and that were there because of the filming. Their officer told me that if I caused 'any more fuss' I and my family would be put under house arrest." Next day, when Mrs Massie went into town to buy Easter eggs, she was shadowed by soldiers all the way.

Maff had already told the Bradford estate office a week before the reburials that samples taken from the Massies' animals had proved negative - which did not prevent them subsequently killing all the animals on a neighbouring farm under the contiguous cull policy, even though tests on this farm had also already proved negative.

Last week it finally confirmed to the Massies that their tests had proved negative, and that they had therefore lost their flock of pedigree sheep, 1,550 pigs and two cows for no reason. Maff has admitted that possibly only one per cent of the 2.5 million animals killed since the epidemic began were actually infected.

ON FRIDAY when Maff stormtroopers broke into a Galloway cottage to slaughter the five healthy pet sheep belonging to a widow, Carolyn Hoffe, they were supported by Gurkha soldiers.

At least while the animals were barricaded into Mrs Hoffe's living room to await a court verdict on their fate, they provided one flash of black humour. One of the sheep knocked a book on to the floor. As it peered at the open pages, it looked for all the world as if it was reading. The book was entitled Vegetarian Cookery.

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