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Farmer’s herd of cattle destroyed because of unspecified “irregularities” in paperwork

Posted by James Hammerton @ 9:16 pm on 1 April, 2007.
Categories democracy and the rule of law, British politics, European Union politics.
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Christopher Booker, writing in the Telegraph, tells us the story of David Dobbin, a farmer who had his herd of prize-winning cattle, worth at least £500,000, destroyed by DEFRA officials, enforcing EU regulations, on the basis of unspecified irregularities in his paperwork:

In 2005 Cheshire trading standards officials, acting for Defra (one hopes Cheshire’s taxpayers do not mind officials whose salaries they pay acting for a government department) began a long series of visits, to inspect the documentation required for Mr Dobbin’s cattle under EC rules. The more they attempted to check the animals’ eight-digit ear tags against their EC “cattle passports”, the more they claimed to have found “irregularities”, although they failed to explain how many or what these were.

Last November, on Defra’s instructions, the officials seized all Mr Dobbin’s passports, making it illegal for him to move animals off his farm and all but wiping out his income. Last month, serving him with a “notice to identify”, they removed his herd to another farm, stating that, under EC regulation 494/98, it was their intention to destroy all 567 animals.

Dating back to the BSE panic, this diktat says that “if the keeper of an animal cannot prove its identification in two working days, it shall be destroyed without delay” and “without compensation”. These powers, as I noted when the regulation was issued in 1998, were unprecedented. Nevertheless the regulation permits officials to destroy only animals that cannot be identified. Defra has never claimed that the paperwork for most of Mr Dobbin’s cows was not in order, only that the officials had found “what they believed to be an unacceptable level of non-compliance with the regulations”, and that this “could have serious implications for the protection of the human food chain”.

Less than an hour before slaughter was due to begin, Mr Dobbin’s combative Liverpool lawyer, David Kirwan, got a High Court injunction, giving the cows a stay of execution. He also won leave from Mr Justice Goldring for judicial review, on the grounds that Defra was acting beyond its powers. But this month, as the injunction expired, Defra insisted that, unless Mr Dobbin could prove the identification of every one of his animals, they must still be destroyed. Since all his passports, the most obvious means of identification, had been confiscated, this was impossible.

Defra told the court that Mr Dobbin would instead have to provide DNA identification for each animal, within two days. This would have been technically impossible, even if Defra had not moved the cows elsewhere and refused him access.

The need to proceed with the slaughter, Defra argued, was urgent, because it had no resources to look after the cattle properly, causing severe “animal welfare” problems. The judge felt he had little option but to give the go-ahead, and on March 8 and 9 the cows were destroyed.
(Emphasis added)

So on the basis of unspecified “non-compliance” with regulations, Mr Dobbin’s “passports” for his cattle were removed, preventing him from legally moving his cattle off-farm and removing his means of identifying them. Then later, DEFRA insists he must identify his cattle, and they get destroyed because he failed to do so, due to the fact that DEFRA had earlier confiscated his means of doing so in the time available. That is truly Kafka-esque and shows how parlous the rule of law has become.

Booker concludes:

His only alleged offence was “non-compliance” with complex bureaucratic procedures, to an extent which Defra still cannot specify. For this he has seen his livelihood go up in smoke, without a penny in compensation.

Note that it was never claimed the herd posed any sort of health threat and that the officials admitted they’d never applied the relevant regulations on this scale before.

1 Comment

  1. Have just done a piece on the deliberate destruction of the rural economy, which includes this case.

    http://thejournal.parker-joseph.co.uk/blog/_archives/2007/4/1/2851478.html

    Am always open to some more examples of targeted policy to pan this out some more.

    Comment by IanP — 1 April, 2007 @ 10:26 pm | Edit This


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