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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 19:56 GMT
Disease victims seek billions
People on farm
The campaign is spearheaded by a group from Wales
Rural business leaders say they want 5.1bn compensation for losses suffered in the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Farmers and traders from around England and Wales met in Birmingham on Thursday to set up the UK Rural Business Campaign, which will represent thousands of people affected by the disease.

Stephen Alexander of London-based Class Law Solicitors said: "This will be a landmark case in respect of the rights of individuals to carry on their business."

Mr Alexander said the group would begin collecting statements from business people and then choose about 10 to put forward as test cases early next year.

Horse riding school
Some horse riding schools have lost business

"If these are successful, they will set a precedent and I cannot believe the government would not sit down and negotiate where there may be 10,000 businesses affected," Mr Alexander said.

Groups and individuals would be asked to contribute to fund the case, but anyone not able to pay would still be allowed to join, Mr Alexander said.

About 40 people from foot-and-mouth affected counties, including Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Devon and Somerset attended the Birmingham meeting.

Enormous task

The 6,000-member National Foot-and-Mouth Campaign, the National Equestrian Trade Association and the Livestock Auctioneers Association were represented.

The inspiration for the group came from a similar campaign in Powys, Wales where 400 business people began a class action eight months ago.

The government has not thought about the farmers who are still trying to fight to keep their heads above water

Christine Harding

Chairman of both the UK and Powys campaigns, Ian Mitchell, admitted the legal action was a huge undertaking, but vowed to see it succeed.

Mr Mitchell, a chartered accountant from Brecon, added: "It may be an enormous undertaking, but we have been going for eight months.

"There is a determination there. We are dealing with a government that has displayed at least indifference and that is a big motivator. The energy we still have throughout the country is a big motivator."

Illegal road closures

Christine Harding, who runs a farm attraction near Honiton, Devon, added: "The government has not thought about the farmers who are still trying to fight to keep their heads above water.

"We have been hearing cases of people who have been close to suicide," she said.

"They have shut their doors and have no-one to talk to and no compensation from the government."

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

The UK Rural Business Campaign will also battle proposed laws allowing the culling of any animal without right of appeal.

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