Second children's farm closed over E.coli

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The Independent Online

A second petting farm has closed following an E.coli outbreak that left 14 children ill in hospital.

The closure of Horton Park Children's Farm, in Epsom, Surrey, over hygiene concerns follows that of sister farm Godstone Farm, also in Surrey.

The total number of cases linked to the Godstone Farm outbreak now stands at 40, with four of the children in hospital described as seriously ill. Of the other children, seven are in a stable condition and three are improving.

A Health Protection Agency (HPA) spokeswoman said it was not aware of any cases of E.coli O157 linked to Horton Park Children's Farm, but added: "The hygiene arrangements were found to be unsatisfactory and the HPA advised the local authority that the farm should be closed immediately while these defects were rectified."

The farm agreed to shut voluntarily, she added.

The parents of the illest children have been given an apology by the HPA for delays in closing Godstone Farm. An independent investigation has been commissioned.

Justin McCracken, head of the HPA, apologised personally for the handling of the situation.

Initially, the agency said the first E.coli case came to light on August 27, but a subsequent investigation discovered two cases reported the previous week.

Mr McCracken said: "If this information had been taken into account on August 27, then the advice given and the steps taken on September 3 would have been introduced earlier and the farm might have been closed earlier."

Tracy Mock, the mother of two-year-old twin boys Aaron and Todd Furnell who are ill in St Thomas' Hospital in central London, said she was pleased the apology had been made.

She added: "But the fact remains that the farm should not have been open when my guys went there after there had been earlier reports of people being ill with E.coli."

A spokeswoman for Horton Park Children's Farm said the decision to close the farm yesterday evening was made because of the perceived "slight risk" of more children contracting E.coli.

In a statement, she said: "Horton Park Children's Farm has decided that, owning to concerns expressed by us and others, and due to the slight risk to our customers of the chance of the disease, the farm will close as a temporary measure until we and others are satisfied that everything in our power has been done to eliminate or reduce any potential risk to our customers and friends.

"I must impress that Horton Park Farm has no suspected or actual cases of E.coli and that this is a preventative measure taken by us to safeguard all our friends and customers.

"Our thoughts at this time are with the children and family and friends of all the people who are ill or suffering because of this unfortunate outbreak of E.coli.

"It is for this reason that we have decided to close until the source can be positively identified.

"We are closely in touch with the environmental health team locally and the Health Protection Agency."

The farm, which has the same owners as Godstone Farm, offers children the chance to stroke and feed animals including goats, rabbits and piglets.