Geronimo the alpaca’s owner claims new test results show he did not have TB

Government accused of delaying handing over results to allow George Eustice to stay in Defra job

Jane Dalton
Saturday 02 October 2021 08:47
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Helen Macdonald and supporters protesting outside Defra’s headquarters

The owner of Geronimo the alpaca, killed by authorities on the grounds he had tuberculosis, has claimed new details from a post-mortem examination show the animal was clear of the disease but “met a brutal death”.

Helen Macdonald called for a public apology from environment secretary George Eustice and “an admission they were wrong” from his officials.

But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says it will be months before tests could confirm whether the alpaca had the disease.

Geronimo, originally from New Zealand, was led to his death from his Gloucestershire farm on 31 August, after a four-year battle over tests that the government claimed showed he had TB.

Ms Macdonald and her veterinary advisers went to court to try prove the tests were flawed, but their fight ended when the high court ruled in the government’s favour.

The lab report said the lesions were atypical

The owner and her team said last month the initial findings showed Geronimo did not have TB, but have now released more detailed results from the post-mortem examination.

They are now in a war of words with Defra over readings of the findings.

Defra insists TB-like lesions were found, but it needs to take cultures of tissue samples for further proof, which can take up to three months.

But according to Ms Macdonald’s veterinary adviser, Iain McGill, the report, by Defra veterinary pathologists, “clearly shows no evidence of Bovine TB”.

Bob Broadbent, Geronimo’s long-standing vet, said if the alpaca had had bTB for over six years, as Defra claimed, large “pyogranulomas” would be expected, but none of the lesions was of that type.

“Despite Defra claiming on 8 September that all of the lesions are ‘TB-like’, the post-mortem report expressly rules out any mycobacterial infection such as bovine TB relating to the lesions found in the neck area,” Dr Broadbent said.

The document also states there was an occasional low number of red blood cells in the lungs, but Dr McGill said there should have been none, “strongly indicating that he suffered a traumatic death”.

Ms Macdonald said: “I fully expected the post-mortem results to be negative for bTB but there is no joy in being proven right.

“I am outraged and devastated by the way Geronimo and I have been treated.

“Defra chose to deliberately misuse the test and abuse their power to maintain their barbaric ‘kill at all cost’ regime.”

Geronimo was imported from New Zealand

She added: “Defra are guilty of deliberate wrongdoing, withholding information for political gain and publishing deliberately misleading claims about Geronimo’s results; they need to open their mind up to the fact that they are wrong.”

Dr McGill said the government had the more detailed findings on 10 September but withheld them for a week.

“Mr Eustice held on to his job in the recent cabinet reshuffle on 15 September, despite overseeing a deeply flawed and defective Bovine TB policy. He masterminded a heavy-handed, misleading and ultimately a very cruel approach to Geronimo’s case,” he said.

When asked to respond, Defra repeated earlier comments by chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss, who said: “We have completed the initial post-mortem examination of Geronimo.

“A number of TB-like lesions were found, and in line with standard practice, these are now undergoing further investigation.

“These tests include the developing of bacteriological cultures from tissue samples which usually takes several months - we would expect to complete the full post-mortem and culture process by the end of the year.”

Ms Macdonald and her supporters have repeatedly accused the government of a cover-up in standing by the TB test results, even though the test manufacturer also cast doubt over their validity.

Dr Broadbent added: “This is the strongest indicator yet that Geronimo did not have bovine tuberculosis. A following negative culture will be conclusive and final evidence.”

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