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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 07:08 GMT
Farmers consider suing over disease
Foot-and-mouth 'Keep out' sign
The group wants to take its case to the High Court
Farmers and rural businesses from across England are being asked to join their Welsh counterparts in legal action against the government over the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Farmers and business people from Yorkshire, Cumbria and Devon are meeting in Birmingham on Thursday to decide the next step.

They are being asked by the Powys Rural Business Campaign to join a class action against the government in an attempt to win compensation.

The Powys group announced on 27 October it planned to take on the government.

Auctioneers, horse societies, farmers' groups and hoteliers are hoping to take their case to the High Court.

Accountant Ian Mitchell, who heads the Powys group, said some businesses in Wales are still closed down.

"Some people are facing a real survival problem as we head into the winter," Mr Mitchell said.

Infected farm yard.
Farmers worry about financial survival this winter

"Some don't have a bank balance to rely on, so compensation is crucial to them."

He said the Birmingham meeting will allow "like-minded people" from around the UK to discuss tactics.

Farmers from north Wales are also expected in Birmingham.

Solicitor Stephen Alexander of Class Law Solicitors in London said the action will represent thousands of people.

"We will be selecting a number of test cases to take forward, but it make take a year or more before it reaches the court."

The group's main arguments are:

  • The government illegally closed roads causing inconvenience and loss of business
  • The government issued wrong information on what areas of the countryside were closed, causing lost revenue through cancellations
  • The government denied rural residents "the enjoyment of their property" which is guaranteed in the Human Rights Act

Mr Alexander said the damage that the government caused was greater than the livestock saved.

"They didn't think through their policies or the effect they would have.

"The government has refused a public inquiry, so, in effect, this court case itself becomes an inquiry."

Anyone who cannot afford to join the class-action can ask to have their fee waived, Mr Alexander said.

Aid programme

Meanwhile the government has launched a 3m programme of aid for firms in areas hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

Money will be given to help improve business efficiency and support retail and other sectors whose trade has suffered.

Small Business Minister Nigel Griffiths said: "This fund will enable groups to develop new business and marketing ideas for the good of the community.

"It offers an exciting opportunity to encourage and support enterprise in areas facing difficulties due to the effects of the disease."

See also:

02 Nov 01 | England
Foot-and-mouth fears fade
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