Furious Welsh farmers turn on whistleblower

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The Independent Online

Nuala Preston, the Welsh farmer who prompted a full-scale inquiry into foot and mouth fraud after telling the Independent on Sunday she was offered an infected sheep for sale, has become the subject of a hate campaign.

"I've had some strange calls rubbishing me," said Ms Preston. "I am worried. People are saying: 'For God's sake watch your back – and look out for recriminations'."

Ms Preston has received a series of warnings following her decision to tell this newspaper she received a mystery telephone call offering to sell her an infected sheep for £2,000. Perverse as it may seem, an infected herd can be worth a lot more money than a healthy one. The next day, the Government announced it was cutting back its "generous" compensation scheme for slaughtered animals. The police are also investigating the incident.

Ms Preston, who lives with her disabled mother at their farm near Nevern, Pembrokeshire, said people have told her that because of her, compensation was being cut. "But it isn't my fault," she says. "I would like to make it clear it is not to do with me."

In Nevern – population about 100 – there was mixed reaction on Friday to the sudden escalation of media and police interest in the area

Hubert Richards, who lives at Coedfryn Farm near the Preston spread, said: "We've only got her word for it about that call," adding: "I believe it's a funny sort of place." And a retired farmer, who did not wish to be named, said: "I don't know what this woman's playing at. It's a big disappointment that she has come out with all this."

An elderly woman declared: "All this sounds a bit like someone scaremongering. And this is a time when the countryside is reeling from foot and mouth."

But Ms Preston has her supporters in the village too. Alan Young, a retired Conservative public relations officer, commented: "No one would claim to have received such a phone call unless it was true. The matter must be taken very, very seriously and we must hope that whoever made such a despicable 'offer' is brought to book."

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