'PARTIAL VICTORY' OF WOMAN'S CULL CHALLENGE
22 August 2003, p. 11.
A WOMAN who challenged the foot-and-mouth cull on the Brecon Beacons and subsequently became embroiled in a long battle with DEFRA over court costs has won a 'partial victory'.
DEFRA has backed down on its original demand for £17,000 in legal costs from Janet Hughes, of Montgomery, in Powys, settling instead for £4,000. Miss Hughes handed over the cheque last Friday bringing the saga to an end.
The department's pursuit of costs created a storm earlier this year when bailiffs sent to Miss Hughes' home by the department attempted to confiscate her son's toys. DEFRA finally decided to relent in pursuit of full costs after Miss Hughes won legal funding to return to court to challenge the writ it issued last year.
Miss Hughes told FG she was glad it was all over, but attacked DEFRA for behaving 'abominably'.
The saga dates back to August 2001 when she mounted a legal challenge to the cull of 4,000 [sic: should be 20,000] sheep on the Brecon Beacons. She bought 10 hefted sheep for the purpose of making the challenge and they remain there.
The challenge fell at the first hurdle, however, when permission for a hearing was refused at the High Court in London.
In October a judge ordered Miss Hughes to pay DEFRA's legal costs of £13,000 and the Welsh Assembly £3,800.
Miss Hughes, who had already spent £21,000 on the case, insisted she should not have to pay their legal costs as rules state costs should not be awarded at a permission hearing. But applications to the UK Court of Appeal and the European Court of Human Rights failed.
In November DEFRA obtained a warrant from the High Court to seize possession to the value of £17,000.
At the end of January bailiffs arrived at Miss Hughes' home without notice, listing among other things, her car and her son Matthew's toy jeep and bike. Miss Hughes described the experience as 'horrific' but vowed then not to give in to intimidation.
This summer her luck changed when the Legal Services Competition granted funding to go back to court to revoke DEFRA's writ. She said she had received legal advice that DEFRA's writ, giving bailiffs power to seize her property, was 'improperly issued and invalid'. The department made the compromise offer because it feared its writ would be exposed as flawed if challenged in the court.
She said she was sorely tempted to press on with the battle, but was advised to accept the settlement. Even though she has had to hand over £4,000 she described the outcome as a 'partial victory'.
"This is a whole lot better than £17,000. I am very glad it's over at last. It's been a long two years of battling, and a very long six months of living under the threat of bailiffs."
She pointed out that the £4,000, raised entirely by donations from supporters, was effectively taxpayers' money anyway. She thanked her supporters.
A DEFRA spokeswoman said DEFRA was 'pleased' to have reached this conclusion 'through agreement.' Miss Hughes' family is on income support and the spokeswoman said her financial circumstances had been taken into account.