A bull sentenced to slaughter after testing positive for bovine TB has won a reprieve after its South Yorkshire owners took its case to the High Court.Ken Jackson, of Forlorn Hope Farm, Walden Stubbs, disputes the validity of a TB test that condemned Boxy the bull.
Defra ordered the bull to be slaughtered after a positive blood sample was taken last April.
Now, given the volume of TB tests done on cattle in the UK, it must be fairly safe to assume that a cost-effective test has been developed and also that from time to time these tests go wrong. The simple solution is to re-test.
Mr Jackson had told the court he wanted prize-winning Hallmark Boxter, also known as Boxy, to be re-tested and offered to pay for it.
He argued that the officers who took the sample mixed two half-full vials in the field, contrary to written procedures.
Now, had I been in charge of the office responsible, my response would have been to have said 'OK, let's do that, I understand you are anxious and as you've offered to pay, let's get it done.' But no. That hasn't happened at all.
Julie Anderson, appearing for Defra, argued that the bull posed a dangerous threat of spreading bovine TB and must be destroyed.
She submitted that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that the positive blood sample had been contaminated.
No doubt a little checklist on the inside cover of the file had been completed, signed by the officer in the field and/or lab, passed to the line manager who had given authority and then countersigned by a higher or senior officer. It is the mindset that if the checklist has been completed then everything is correct. The checklist can never be wrong. It is complete in its wisdom, everything that needs to be on it is there, anything that isn't on it is an irrelevance. This is a culture that prohibits the employment of abstract thought. It is not common for a civil servant to be thanked for saying to himself 'hang on a minute. . .'
But at the High Court in London Mr Justice McCombe quashed the notices of intended slaughter, ruling that the test taken in relation to Boxy was flawed.
Obviously nobody thought to tell Justice McCombe about the infallibility of the checklist. Or perhaps they did, but he didn't buy it.
He refused Defra permission to appeal, though the department could still make an application directly to the Court of Appeal in a bid to take the case further.
Or they could just re-administer the test. You know it is possible that maybe a human being made a mistake. I know you've got best practice and standard operating procedures and training courses and one day refereshers and e-learning and all that guff, but sometime people just make mistakes. It doesn't make them a bad person, it makes them a human person. Re-doing the test, making sure that it is robust and properly effective will settle this once and for all. The farmer even offered to pay for it.
Daniel Stilitz QC, for the claimants, said the Jacksons "are not wealthy people" and the case had cost them £28,000.
The judge ordered the defendant to pay £15,000 costs within 14 days.
So that's fifteen grand on top of what DEFRA have had to pay to get themselves to this situation, as opposed to what, a couple of quid for a test? A test, which I cannot outline enough, the farmer has offered to pay for.
Of course there is no culpability here from DEFRA:
A Defra spokesman said: "We are naturally disappointed by this judgment and will carefully consider its implications and our next steps, including whether to appeal.
"The judgment does not, however, undermine our comprehensive TB-testing regime for cattle."
They'll appeal, believe me. The fact it will cost the taxpayer a small fortune doesn't matter. Their rules, their decision. Who do these people think they are, going against DEFRA's judgement? Don't they know these people are highly trained experts in their field with years of experience under their belt? No. This cow must die. Without a re-test. It is impossible to think that a mistake has been made. Besides, we've got this checklist. . .
The spanking of public money is done unthinkingly. There is no connection between the tax take and the departmental budget sheet. It simply does not occur to them to not spend the money.
In my department, which I have decided to name the Dept of Beverage Transportation and Consumption Vessel Cleansing for comedy blog purposes, (it is headed up by Dame Greta Arseclown-Um Bongo following the retirement of Sir Norman Tedium-Custard in the new year), a number of front-line staff, most of them my friends, have toddled off into redundancy this week. However I received a message from the 'Religion and Belief Champion', Simon Supinely-Nice, about 'Holy Week'. Could they not get it darned?
'Savage' cuts? Don't make me laugh. I'd love to see what vital tasks are undertaken by Mr. Supinely-Nice over the course of a week, how much he is paid, and how many of those just handed their P45's could have stayed on if he'd been given the push with his ridiculous post instead.