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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 11:36 GMT
Disease-hit farm families helped by police
policeman on road
Devon and Cornwall Police were at 70 sites
South West police officers who stood guard at the gates of foot-and-mouth infected farms have given part of their pay to communities hardest hit by the disease.

At the peak of the crisis, 120 officers from Devon and Cornwall Police were stationed at 70 sites across both counties.

Officers from across the force were given the opportunity to contribute a special fund with a direct debit scheme being set up for them to pledge 10 from their wages.

In all, nearly 7,000 has been raised so far.

A lot of officers were quite shocked by the crisis. It wasn't just the death of the animals, but also the total isolation of the farming communities

Chief inspector Barry Frost
The money will be passed on to farmers whose businesses were devastated by the crisis.

One of the hardest hit places was West Devon, where there were almost 100 outbreaks.

At Devon County Council's recent public inquiry into the disease, Devon and Cornwall Police chief constable Sir John Evans described how his officers acted as counsellors to farmers who were cut off by movement restrictions.

He said in a few cases the officers removed shotguns from depressed farmers who held licences because of their concern.

Officers were also stationed at every burning pit, pyre and disease-affected farm during the crisis.

Police were often the only point of contact between farmers' families who were isolated on their land because of movement restrictions by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the outside world.

policeman at farm
Police were the only point of contact for farmers
They passed on mail, food and other essentials.

This led officers in the area to organise the appeal to help farmers.

Some of the money raised will be handed over on Wednesday at a ceremony at Highampton Primary School.

The town of Highampton was one of the worst affected by the crisis.

Chief inspector Barry Frost said: "A lot of officers were quite shocked by the crisis.

"It wasn't just the death of the animals, but also the total isolation of the farming communities and the fact that many farmers and children were completely desperate.

"Officers felt so helpless and felt they really wanted to do something to help."

Police are also sending Christmas cards to those who were affected by the crisis.

They will also treat 200 parents and children to a trip to see a performance of the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth in the new year.

Officers moved

The charity the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) took many calls from South West farmers during the outbreak.

Its helpline, which was receiving two calls a day in January, found itself having to deal with 300 calls a day at the height of the crisis in April and May.

RABI spokesman Nicholas Bond said of the donations to farmers: "It's wonderful. They were obviously moved by what they had seen. It must have brought home what farmers were going through.

"People who see what's happened understand what's going on."

See also:

18 Oct 01 | England
Police ready for rural crime wave
12 Oct 01 | England
Farm crisis pushes up crime
09 Oct 01 | England
Culling condemned at inquiry
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