Page last updated at 21:16 GMT, Sunday, 13 September 2009 22:16 UK

Farm defends response to E.coli

Farm manager Richard Oatway: 'We have co-operated fully with all the authorities''

The managers of a children's farm in Surrey linked to a string of E.coli cases have defended their response to the outbreak.

Twelve children are in hospital - four seriously ill - after contracting the bug at Godstone Farm near Redhill.

The farm has been closed while the Health Protection Agency carries out an investigation.

Parents contacting the BBC have questioned why the farm remained open while their children were falling ill.

'Very upset'

But farm manager Richard Oatway said the farm had acted responsibly and was co-operating with the investigation.

He said: "All the staff at the farm are very upset about the E.coli outbreak and we hope that all the children make a full and speedy recovery."

He added: "We have taken the decision to close the farm until the authorities have finished their investigations. These have been very thorough and are still ongoing.

"We will not reopen the farm until we are satisfied that we have got to the root of the problem and have put in place suitable control measures.

Bacterium is found in the intestines of animals and humans
950 recorded cases in England and Wales last year
20 people died in the worst recorded UK outbreak, linked to a church lunch in Strathclyde 13 years ago

"Our main priority has always been to make sure the farm is safe for everyone who comes here to visit.

"We have co-operated fully with all the authorities from the very beginning and will of course continue to do so."

Tracy Mock, from Kent, said her twin boys aged two are now in hospital after visiting the farm on 31 August. Their five-year-old sister was also taken ill.

Ms Mock said: "If they had just shut the place down to investigate, my sons would not be in hospital on kidney dialysis machines."

"They are still in hospital, my partner and I are taking turns to be there with them. One has had a blood transfusion. The doctors say it could be weeks until they are in a fit state to come home."

Another mother, Claire Blackwell, said when she took her children to the farm on 9 September she had no idea there was anything wrong.

She said: "Whoever took the decision not to shut the farm earlier was completely in the wrong. If there was a notice as we drove in I wouldn't have got out of the car."

Cases traced

It has emerged health officials knew about the outbreak among people who visited the farm days before it was closed to the public.

The Health Protection Agency became aware of the outbreak in late August after cases were traced to the farm.

The farm, which is a popular destination for families, was closed when a pattern was established as the number of infected children rose.

All the sick children are aged under 10. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) says 36 cases have been reported so far.

The outbreak is believed to have started on 8 August. The bacteria causes diarrhoea and can lead to kidney failure, especially in young children. It is fatal in very rare cases.

HPA spokesman Dr Graham Bickler said it was one of the largest outbreaks seen in the UK.

Samples taken

He said: "The farm is shut so we're confident there's no more transmission going on at the farm."

He added it would take "a few weeks" to find the source of the infection.

"The actions over the next few weeks will be to investigate it by talking to people who've been ill or their parents to find out what they've been doing, by taking samples from them and from the environment.

"So it will take a few weeks until we fully understand it and we don't know at the moment."

Professor Hugh Pennington, who has led inquiries into E.coli outbreaks in central Scotland and south Wales, described the latest one as a "very large" outbreak.

He said: "Most people get better without any particular treatment. But unfortunately some people, some kids, do lose their kidneys permanently so this is a very, very serious infection."

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