Farm virus cull pushed farmers to suicide

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The Independent Online

Two farmers committed suicide after learning that their herds were to be culled as a precaution during the foot-and-mouth crisis, a coroner's court was told yesterday.

The two men, who worked at separate farms in Powys ­ the Welsh county worst affected by the epidemic ­ were both devastated at the prospect of losing their stock. Evidence of their misery was given at Welshpool Town Hall. The cases prompted calls in the Welsh Assembly for farmers to receive further financial support.

The coroner, John Hollis, was told John Bayliss, 56, shot himself in the head in his farmyard after he was served with a "D Notice" prohibiting cattle movement on the same day as government vets gave him clearance to move animals from his farm in Kerry, Newtown, on 2 April. The restrictions were enforced by the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff), after his farm was visited by a contractor who had been to an affected farm.

Although his animals were confirmed as not having foot-and-mouth, the "D Notice" from Maff meant he was unable to receive visitors and was isolated from the community. The ban was imposed during the lambing season, which left Mr Bayliss with a field full of muddy and wet lambs that could not be moved.

Police told the inquest that Mr Bayliss, of Borfa Wen Farm, did not have either personal or financial problems before his death. His widow, Rita, told the inquest: "He had a licence from the Ministry to move the animals, then the 'D Notice' was slapped on the same day. There were lambs everywhere. They were dirty and wet, and couldn't be moved."

The full extent of the human toll of the farming crisis was underlined yesterday when Mr Hollis recorded two further verdicts of suicide on Welsh farmers. Glyn Lewis, 59, a father of three from Llwyn-y-Maes, near Llangollen, hanged himself with a rusty chain on 21 April after half his herd of 250 sheep and 40 cattle were destroyed because they came into contact with infected animals. The inquest was told that Mr Lewis, who had earlier tried to shoot himself with a shotgun, had "lived for his livelihood" and killed himself when it was taken away.

An earlier inquest in Welshpool was told a farmer affected by the BSE crisis was found dead at his farm. Brian Oakley, 54, suffered a breakdown at the end of the 1990s and was forced by plunging livestock prices to move to a smaller farm in Llanfechain where he was found hanged in March.

* The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said yesterday there were no plans for vaccination in areas still suffering from the disease. But a long-term threat has emerged from hidden reservoirs of the virus in sheep, which could still be spreading the disease next year despite a slaughter programme that has seen millions of animals killed.