Shambo the bull wins legal fight for life

Cahal Milmo
Tuesday 17 July 2007 00:00 BST

Chewing noisily on a bale of hay, Shambo The Bull betrayed little emotion at his reprieve in a life-or-death legal wrangle about the primacy of religion over Britain's animal health laws.

The six-year-old Friesian cross has spent the last three months in splendid isolation in a pen at the rear of a Hindu temple in the Welsh countryside while the battle raged over whether he should be sent to the abbatoir after testing positive for bovine tuberculosis.

The sacred bull and his owners had more reason than usual to offer thanks and praise yesterday after a High Court judge ruled he should not be sacrificed for the sake of Britain's 50-year crusade against TB.

In a judgment that was greeted with jubilation by Hindu leaders and anger by farmers, the Welsh authorities were rebuked for seeking to have Shambo slaughtered without considering the human right of his owners to exercise their religion.

The judge, Mr Justice Hickinbottom said: "The proposed slaughter of this temple bull would be a patent and gross interference with the manifestation of their beliefs."

The ruling could have implications for Britain's compulsory slaughter policy after the court questioned whether it was proportionate to the risk to public health posed by bovine TB.

Shambo has been the focus of a vigorous campaign demanding he be spared because of his holy status under Hinduism. The animal is one of about 60 cows, bullocks and buffalos kept for religious ceremonies at the Skanda Vale Hindu community and temple in west Wales. More than 20,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Shambo to be spared on a website which offers his "daily thoughts" and a webcam, called "Moo Tube".

Under Britain's "test and slaughter" policy to control bovine TB, any animal testing positive for the disease must be killed. About 30,000 cows are slaughtered each year. But Hindu leaders are seeking an exemption for so-called temple animals.

Sitting in Cardiff, Mr Justice Hickinbottom said the decision by the Welsh Assembly to order the slaughter of Shambo was unlawful. Lawyers for the Hindu temple in Llanpumsaint, Carmarthenshire, said the slaughter would be a "violation of deeply held religious views" and contrary to Article Nine of the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the right to freedom of thought and religion.

The judge said he accepted that it was "very likely" that Shambo is infected with TB - contrary to the claims of the temple. But he said the risk to public health could be minimised and the disease treated.

The judge said: "Whatever the legitimate public health objectives of the government might have been, I would have had grave doubts as to whether it could have satisfied me on the evidence that it was proportional to require the slaughter of Shambo."

The decision does not grant the bull the right to live to the end of his natural life and the Welsh government said it would be appealing against the ruling but Hindu leaders said it was an important victory and called on Hillary Benn, the new Environment Secretary to change the TB testing rules for sacred animals. It is thought there about 100 such animals kept at two temples in Britain.

Welsh farmers, who lose 6,000 cattle a year to TB slaughters, reacted angrily to the judgment. Evan Thomas, of the Farmers Union of Wales, said: "This ludicrous ruling contradicts the principles upon which successful TB eradication programmes throughout the world have been based for generations."

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