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Astrid Goddard reports....
Janet Hughes and Family Pictured is Janet Hughes, with her son Matthew, partner Glyn, and one of her dogs, Bobby.

Janet Hughes is a courageous woman fighting a battle against DEFRA to save sheep on the Brecon Beacons of Wales. Her court battle to date may have saved tens of thousands of sheep on the Beacons.

She believes the contiguous cull and antibody slaughter policy of healthy animals is illegal under the terms of the Animal Health Act 1981, and on 30 January 2002 she is appealing against being refused a Judicial Review of this slaughter policy.

Since launching her court battle on 16 August 2001, only 120 sheep have been killed on the entire Beacons and every single one of the thousands of tests conducted in the area have come back "negative".

I asked Janet how she got into her present situation:

"On my son's birthday, 26 March 2001, a date which will remain in my memory forever - the family were trying to hold a birthday party. MAFF (as DEFRA were then known) began to burn our neighbours 2,500 sheep, and 400 cattle. The ewes were on the point of lambing, and MAFF would not allow them to be moved across the lane to lamb.

"They did however, permit them to be moved across the road to be shot! A neighbour telephoned me in tears. The slaughter took place between the 25 and 26 of March. It later turned out the stock were perfectly healthy. It was a contiguous cull."

Janet felt that something was very wrong with the whole killing operation, and from then onwards, she and her family got more and more involved with what was happening around them.

Then on 15 April - Easter Sunday - the stock in the Severn Valley, 10 miles away from Janet's home, was wiped out. Janet telephoned newspapers and journalists, and anyone she could think of. The army moved in, and since it was the bank holiday weekend, there was no one about. No avenue seemed open to Janet that could help her stop the slaughter.

The slaughter continued in Powys at the end of June. By then it was too much to bear, and Janet felt she had to take some kind of action. She had written to everyone, Tony Blair, Carwyn Jones, Minister for Rural Affairs in the Welsh Assembly, the chief veterinary surgeon in Wales, and many others. The only recourse, by any democratic means, was legal.

At this point, a solicitor told Janet that if no grazier [Beacons hill farmer] on the Beacons would agree to become a claimant in a court Injunction then they could not put a stop to the cull. An Injunction is something you take out in order to stop somebody doing something.

On the weekend beginning Friday 27 July there was a cull of 4,000 sheep on the Beacons. She tried to take out an Injunction but discovered that she would not be considered "sufficiently legally interested" for her Injunction application to be accepted, if she did not own any sheep of her own.

It was at this point that Janet and her family realised that they must purchase sheep of their own, in order to fight a case. And so Janet purchased 10 Welsh Cross-Cheviot sheep from a grazier. She became the owner and the sheep remained on the Beacons.

On 16 August, Janet went to the solicitors to launch an Injunction against the National Assembly of Wales and MAFF, to stop them culling the sheep. This immediately stopped them culling any more sheep on the Beacons.

The Court hearing was heard on the 21 August, and as well as attempting to take out an Injunction, Janet also applied for a Judicial Review of government policy. A Judicial Review is an official review of government policy which will determine its legality.

She sought a Judicial Review of the decision by the Welsh Assembly and DEFRA, claiming they acted unlawfully in culling sheep which did not have Foot and Mouth disease. She believed, rightly, that sheep which have foot and mouth antibodies - but do not carry the disease - should not be culled. She points out that animals do not become infected with Foot and Mouth from animals which have antibodies to the disease.

Unfortunately, however, she was denied both an Injunction and a Judicial Review of the antibody slaughter policy.

However, on 27 August she lodged an Appeal against this decision, and since the court hearing of 21 August, only 120 sheep have been culled on the entire Beacons. This cull was on the 27 August and was only a small percentage of a flock belonging to a farmer who had already signed the form giving killing authority.

In the meantime, thousands of sheep have been tested on the entire Beacons, and all the results have come back "negative". This implies that DEFRA may well be aware that its culling policy could be illegal.

Janet's sheep are still alive and are part of a flock at Talybont-on-Usk. They were on heft 17 which, it emerged during the court hearing on the 21 August, were in the next group due to be culled.

It is her legal action which has prevented her own sheep being killed, and who knows how many tens of thousands of sheep are still alive today as a result of Janet's initiative and courage.

During the entire Foot and Mouth scandal, 20,000 sheep were killed on the Brecon Beacons. Janet is appealing against being denied a Judicial Review. A Judicial Review may conclude that the Government acted illegally. (Appeal against her being denied an Injunction would not now be relevant as the killing has stopped.)

The case hinges on the Animal Health Act 1981 and attempts to prove that DEFRA acted unlawfully under the current legislation. Tests had shown that there was no spread of disease, and no valid reason to cull thousands of healthy sheep and destroy the livelihoods of the farmers.

If the Appeal is successful, it would have massive implications for the countryside.

Janet has used her own £13,000 savings. £21,000 has already been paid for legal fees to date. An appeal for funds raised around £9,000. £1,000 remains in the fund. The costs of the Judicial Review may be as high as £30,000 and Janet also faces £16,000 costs from DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly.

Nevertheless, she is determined to win the case, since - lack of funds notwithstanding - Janet believes wholeheartedly that the Government's policy of culling healthy animals must be challenged.

DEFRA wrote to the court of appeal to have the case dismissed, and to be given notice of any oral hearing, but the good news is that their request has been refused.

The new Animal Health Bill amounts to an admission that the 1981 Act does not give legal authority to the Government to kill healthy animals. The new version of the Bill is an attempt to provide the Government with the authority to kill any animal under any circumstance and in any place that the Government wishes.

Can you support her by being there in person at the court?
The venue is The Civil Justice Centre, 2 Park Street, Cardiff on Wednesday 30 January 2002.

Alternatively, donations may be made to her legal fund appeal. It seems to us that all farmers on the Beacons whose sheep have since been tested "negative" owe Janet Hughes a considerable debt. We would urge them to support her case.

see also Sovereignty's follow-on report of this case

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