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the Turpin-West family

Report and pictures by
Astrid Goddard

Paul and Bev Turpin-West and their four lovely children Poppy, Rowan, Tilly and Paigel live in a house called "The Land of Green Ginger" in the middle of the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, with... 12 dogs, 3 cats, 29 chickens, 3 ducks, 15 goats, 20 rabbits, 5 guinea pigs, 1 horse, 3 donkeys, and 2 cows in calf.

On the 4th of March 2002 we drove from Oaklands Park to meet and interview this exceptional family who were - and still are - heavily involved in the Forest of Dean Action Group, and who with others were involved in defending against the cull last year. Our top picture shows (from left) Bev, Tilly, Paigel, Paul, Rowan and Poppy.

The first thing we wanted to know was what happened to them last year and how it affected them...

Bev: "The first thing we thought was, 'It's not going to affect us because it's not near us.' We brought the goats down here for kidding. Then we heard on the radio that we were in a closure zone, and asked MAFF what we should do - because of the free-roaming sheep in the Forest. They told us to put up a double fence, and we did so. There was a 6-foot gap between the two fences.

"The sheep in the Forest were killed last year between the 1st and 8th of April, the stragglers were killed on 20th April. There were about 5,000 of them. MAFF promised that they would clear everything, but all they did was sweep all the bloody straw to the side of the road. Someone drove down there, and nailed up a wreath. By the end of the week, the whole side of the road was covered in flowers. We are hoping to have a memorial service on the 6th April.

"The sheep used to be everywhere. The grass is long outside now because the sheep, which were hefted, have gone. Each Badger - forest shepherd - has their own area and they tend to keep them to those areas. One Badger has some sheep left, as he had taken them in for lambing.

"Mike, up the road, had land and grazing rights. They tried to give him an A-notice but he wouldn't accept it. He drove for weeks, round and round to avoid them giving it to him, stopping occasionally to feed the lambs. It was the only way he could deal with it.

Tilly and Rowan

"People deliberately misled MAFF when they were looking for the forest sheep. They would say things like; 'I don't know that name, we only know people by their first names round here", or, 'There aren't any sheep round here'. MAFF were driving around searching for the sheep, and we think they used a helicopter also."

Poppy, 15, who is presently one of the organisers of the Forest of Dean Action Group, and who has a telephone-tree of contacts which she can use to mobilise people quickly, told us, "An old man in his 60s was sent two riot police vans, a slaughter man, the disinfecting team, and the vet. Apparently everyone communicated about which vets should be allowed in, and which should not. Some of the vets were really nasty and over the top."

Alistair: Well, they stopped being vets really, didn't they? Because as their veterinary oath says, it's their job to ensure the welfare of all animals committed to their care. It's not to see how many they can kill in one day. And how you can be apparently caring on one hand, and then suddenly stop - the next day - and go into this destruct mode... it's very odd.

We discussed the extent to which some people were able to resist and agreed that not everyone was in a position to do anything, even if they wanted to - due to force of circumstances, and we can't criticise those who were not in the happy position of being able to do as they may have preferred.

So many people were forced into an unjust position and it was totally wrong that they should have been in that position. But they were in it, and there was basically very little that many could do, especially on their own, and faced with the overwhelming and intimidating power of the state.

The Forest of Dean Action Group is Born
The family told us that it was the Oaklands Park defence which really brought people together in the area. On the 19th April when Oaklands decided to make a stand it gave everybody else hope. The Forest of Dean Action Group was formed in the driveway of Oaklands Park. From then on a network was formed and grew, and people came together to defend each other.

On the morning of the 21st April the group, including the Turpin-West family, mobilised to defend Pat Innocent and her sheep. That afternoon, it mobilised to defend Sean Saunders.

Sean Saunders had 40 supporters outside his premises, and MAFF were being deliberately misdirected by the locals as they tried to find his farm. The kids sat on the farm gate, an ex-BBC man followed MAFF filming everything, and the kids followed the MAFF vet around and sat next to him when he tried to use his mobile... something only children could do... the children weren't doing anything wrong and so they couldn't touch them!


Eventually MAFF gave up trying to cull Sean Saunders animals, because there were so many people around, although all the usual threats were used: 'If you don't let us value them now, you won't get as high a price later, if anything.'

One of the MAFF vehicles, which was supposed to collect the animals, drove up a grass lane - which was shut off by the County Council, between two A notice premises.

Paul complained to Dr. Allen the MAFF vet, who shrugged, and wouldn't even answer him. Paul phoned the police and made an official complaint about them using the lane. He told the police that he had another 40 witnesses. The police said that the men had been working under Ministry instructions. Paul commented, 'Presumably the instructions were to spread foot and mouth!'

When Paul asked Mark Harper, the Conservative candidate, he agreed to be a witness. He checked about the lane, and found that it was an access only for people who lived there. So the local County Council law was broken. He was investigating the matter, but then the General Election came along and it was not pursued.

Paul commented to us that if there is a large demonstration then the Police often do not have the resources to deal with it; another interesting point was about what children can do to confound the authorities.

As Bev told us: "The children organised a group. They didn't know where MAFF would come from, so they were running around, keeping watch, and when MAFF arrived they got together and they decided that the taller ones would sit on the fence, with the youngest children in front. The only thing they could do if there were police riot vans would be sitting down in front of them. They decided they would look towards the TV cameras and scream if anyone came near them. Things you can get away with if you are a child."

"I was really lucky to have Paul and the kids at home. I work for a residential home for adults with learning difficulties, and there we keep livestock, cattle and sheep. I did not go near my own livestock. In fact, I was told that I was not allowed to go near them. Paul had to look after them. Someone had to look after the animals, and unless you were in a position to, you couldn't do it."

Paigel and Paul

Drybrook Public Meeting... a Turning Point
Bev: "There was a very important meeting in Drybrook on 26th April 2001 organised by the Forest of Dean Action Group, that changed everything in this area.

"It took place at Drybrook village hall, which is reasonably large, and there were people in the foyer, hanging out of the doors, in the kitchen, people looking through the fire doors, others in the corridors. Everyone would have liked to have lynched David Parker, the DVM.

"He said something to the effect that they were going to kill, in a contiguous cull; and he also said, 'I can't embarrass my minister', and that's actually written into MAFF contracts.

"He was in a great deal of danger, as everyone was so wound up and so desperate. Henry Bolton of the NFU was there too, and he was actually in favour of vaccination. People wanted to know why the slaughter of healthy animals was continuing. They wanted to know the alternatives.

"Mark Harper, the Conservative candidate was also there, and he said in relation to the conduct of MAFF, 'If you had come and told me what I have just seen, I'd have thought you were exaggerating.' Since then, he was supportive.

"At the Drybrook meeting David Parker agreed to a clear 48-hour period without culling or risk of culling, and from then on they blood tested everything. They said this was an exception for the Forest of Dean, as the last confirmed case had been on the 17th of April.

"After this meeting, no more animals were culled, and not one test came back positive. In fact out of the 5,000 slaughtered in the forest -- none of which were blood tested -- they found two which were supposed to have had foot and mouth, and that was not from a blood test but from a mouth examination. It was claimed they had 'mouth lesions'... but, of course, that could have been anything."

Because Trading Standards and MAFF somehow missed Bev and Paul's goats, and forgot to give them a holding number, they were not tested until later on - at a point when they were convinced that it was in MAFF's best interests to declare the goats safe!

Someone from Somerset and someone from Australia came, and they blood tested on 26th June. They were told they would not get the results back. They would only know if they were positive.

About a month later, Bev was told that the results were OK. Bev and Paul had been worried about the goats, and the children were even more worried as they had bottle-fed the goats and cared for them.

Below, from left :  Bev, Rowan, Paul, Paigel, Alistair McConnachie, Tilly, Poppy, and Pat Innocent.

Bev, Rowan, Paul, Paigel, Alistair, Tilly, Poppy, Pat

Paul told us: "Tilly, who had especially bottle-fed the goats, was in the garden one day and I heard her shout 'Put it in the mail-box and go away'... A Land Rover had pulled up, a man had got out, and said 'I've got some documents for you.'
They knew that the slaughter notice had to be physically handed over. She came running in and the tears were just starting in her eyes, and she said, 'I think they've just brought the slaughter notice'. I went out and looked, and it was the census form! I don't suppose she'll forget that for the rest of her life."

Some of the Lessons we can Learn...
  • Don't physically accept documents if you can avoid them.
  • When people come together they are inspired and motivated to change. It only takes one incident, like Oaklands Park, to fill everyone with a sense of empowerment and hope.
  • Public meetings are important to show the authorities the strength of your feeling, and to network and mobilise.
  • If there is a large enough demonstration, and if there are several happening all over the place, then the Police do not necessarily have the resources to deal with them.
  • Media and cameras make the authorities disappear.
  • Children can get away with impeding the authorities in ways which adults cannot; for example, children screaming at TV cameras, in apparent fear, make for the sort of scenes which the authorities are desperate to avoid.
  • Have an Action Plan and maintain contact lists, telephone-trees and email networks.

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