Read all about Boxster's owners' fight with Defra to save their much loved bull. The book costs just £10 plus postage and packing. www.boxstersstory.co.uk. On April 14th 2011, after a four day hearing, at the High Court in London Mr Justice McCombe granted Boxy a reprieve after many months of legal wrangling between the owners (the Jacksons) and Defra. Mr Justice McCombe quashed the notices of intended slaughter, ruling that the bovine TB blood test taken in relation to Boxy was flawed. The original slaughter notices have been quashed (but the threat of death is not yet over as Defra is insisting on a further blood test* see end of this article for updates). See http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/jackson-v-defra-judgment.pdf for a full report on the proceedings.
The Court also held that Defra’s presumption of bovine TB in Boxster was not warranted. The Suffolk solicitors, Barker Gotelee, Richard Barker and Dermott Thomas, who acted for the family, said that Defra had breached its own guidelines in sampling for bovine TB.
After numerous court hearings, it is estimated Defra will have spent £50,000 fighting the case.
The Jacksons's solicitor said; "The judge accepted that Defra veterinary surgeons had mishandled the sampling process carried out on the farm and as a consequence did not follow their own guidance specifically designed to prevent contamination or cross-contamination. The Jacksons have always accepted that bovine TB is a disease which should be eradicated from cattle herds if at all possible – but the system adopted for testing has to be consistent and in accordance with published policy and guidelines. In this instance, Defra’s taking of blood samples failed to comply with its own guidelines, hence the legal challenge and the decision of the High Court which was based not on the opinion of scientists but on what actually happened in the Yorkshire field the day sampling took place." The solicitor went on to say that the court heard no evidence to suggest that Hallmark Boxster had bovine TB and the bull had passed a skin test some two weeks before the blood sampling.
He added that after an initial injunction postponing the first slaughter notice the judge had suggested that Defra should re-test ’but for reasons best known to Defra that did not happen. Their solicitor described Mr and Mrs Jackson and their daughter Kate as ’first class livestock farmers with a fierce determination to protect their animals and to give them the care that non-farmers would regard as remarkable’. His advice to other farmers facing TB testing – "Quite simply to know what the correct procedures are when testing for bovine TB and ensuring that those procedures are followed. If not, there could be grounds for a legal challenge.
Defra says; "We have decided not to appeal. ..our immediate priority is to continue to work with the owners of Boxster to resolve the TB problem in their herd." This claim by Defra, implying they have been "working with the owners" obviously hit a raw nerve for Mr Jackson who told the Yorkshire Post: "I haven’t got a TB problem. I have had seven consecutive all-clears, which involved Defra vets walking past Boxster to the rest of the herd and refusing to give him the re-test we asked for in the first place. Officially, the positive test on him is null and void. He is only still in quarantine because I am voluntarily going along with Defra’s instructions, although they are driving me to the point of explosion."
This case started in 2010 when one of Yorkshire’s top cattle breeders was told his champion bull, a British Blonde Hallmark Boxter (known as Boxy), 'unique and irreplaceable' showground champion worth around £20,000 and just four years old, had to be slaughtered as he had apparently reacted positively to the blood test. Defra even refused permission to save semen from the bull, for future breeding, because Defra said there was a risk, albeit small, of passing the disease on. However, Boxy's owners, Ken Jackson, of Forlorn Hope Farm in South Yorkshire, and his daughter Kate McNeil, disputed the validity of the TB test that condemned their bull. The decision was challenged in the courts. Professor Paul Torgerson, co-author of ‘Public Health and bovine tuberculosis – what’s all the fuss about?’ was an expert witness for the case.
In quashing the slaughter order the Judge refused Defra permission to appeal, but the department could have still made an application directly to the Court of Appeal in a bid to take the case further. However, Defra has advised it is not intending to appeal against the decision.
The judge, in rejecting the appeal application, said that it was 'really a case about one animal' and the problem had been caused by 'making a policy mountain out of what was a farm molehill'. He added: 'I do not think further litigation should be encouraged.'
On the question of costs Daniel Stilitz QC, for the claimants, said the Jacksons 'are not wealthy people' and the case had cost them £28,000. The judge ordered the defendant to pay £15,000 on account within 14 days.
A Defra spokesman said: 'We are naturally disappointed by this judgment and will carefully consider its implications and our next steps, including whether to appeal. 'The judgment does not, however, undermine our comprehensive TB-testing regime for cattle.'
However, DEFRA is now trying to force the Jacksons to have Boxster tested again using the same gamma blood test, despite their concerns regarding this unreliable test and the fact that it is supposed to be an ancillary test, with the skin test being the main approved test. In addition Defra has already published a response to this case in the form of a pdf on its re-test policy (http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/tb-testing110511.pdf
The Boxy case began some months ago in 2010 when one of Yorkshire’s top cattle breeders was told his valuable champion bull was a positive reactor to bovine TB. Ken Jackson of Forlorn Hope Farm, Stubbs Walden, between Pontefract and Doncaster, has been fighting to save the life of his champion bull and had requested a second blood test on the animal on 17 April 2010. His request was refused and he was also refused permission to save semen from the bull, for future breeding, because Defra said there was a risk, albeit small, of passing the disease on. Undeterred he has kept up the fight to try to save his bull.
The outbreak at Forlorn Hope Farm came less than nine months after the declaration of an official TB ‘hotspot’, around three neighbouring farms in the Denby Dale area, 20 miles away. The neighbours had infected each other but the original route of the TB was never established. Defra had been watching for possible escapes from this hotspot since last July and would have some explaining to do if the Jackson farm cases were traced back to it. But so far, nobody knows what the explanation is. Many cases in Yorkshire are eventually attributed to cattle moved from further south, where TB cannot be stamped out. Cattle farmers fear it will make another jump north.
Mr Jackson, 65, runs a commercial beef herd of cross-breds, which he has run down from about 300 to about 100 over the past couple of years. But his pride and joy is his 40 pedigree British Blondes, derived from the French Blondes d’Aquitaine. The best of his two stock bulls, Hallmark Boxter, won its category in every show it entered last year and would have been worth five figures to another breeder. But it is one of eight animals identified as a probable TB carrier by blood tests. Defra will only pay compensation at average meat market rates, which means around £2,500 for a bull too old to make best steak.
Back in April, Jackson and his wife, son and daughter, were still waiting for the results of 20 more blood tests. They were also waiting for confirmation of TB in the animals slaughtered so far. Meanwhile, their cattle business is shut down for months at least and they cannot go on the show circuit this year.
Mr Jackson said: “The government website admits three animals in a hundred are wrongly diagnosed. A second opinion on the best bull of its kind in the country would have only taken a couple of days. But according to the inspectors, everything is black and white. He had to be put down to be on the safe side and if I would not take him in, the police would be called and he would be shot.”
His daughter Kate McNeil, who works for the NHS but still helps at the family farm, said. “It’s heartbreaking. He was like a pet to me. We had to fight but in the end, everything the Defra people said made sense in a hard way. They did understand and they were as good as they could be.”
Eight animals were condemned after a routine screening raised the alarm at Forlorn Hope Farm. There are two herds on this farm; pedigree British Blondes, and a commercial beef herd. The TB was in both herds and one of the positives was the best Blonde bull Mr Jackson has ever had – Hallmark Boxter. When Defra's veterinary service, Animal Health, had to repeat some tests which had failed, Mr Jackson pleaded for another test on Boxter, in case there had been a false positive. He said the animal had a sensitive system, which might easily have over-reacted to the Defra test process. And he offered to pay any price Defra wanted to name, to discourage re-tests becoming a routine expectation.
In May 2010 Boxter was still on the farm, in isolation, while the wrangle continued. But the senior TB vet at Animal Health in Leeds, Clare Taylor, said she could not give ground. Defra says a second test would set a precedent which could lead to impossible complications and Dr Taylor said: "When you have a positive reaction against the background of chronic disease already confirmed on the same farm, there is no room for argument. It is a heck of a thing to happen and we sympathise very much but our policy has been tested by judicial review." She also stood by her department's refusal to allow semen from Boxter to be saved, because there is a remote risk of TB transmission by that route.
The wider concern for farmers is where the TB came from. Less than a year ago, there was a cluster of cases in the Denby Dale area, on the other side of the M1. Defra needed to know if there had been a leak in its containment operation – or, worse, if the disease might have got into the local wildlife and spread that way. But it turns out the strain of TB on the Jackson farm is different. Its ‘home range’ appears to be the junction of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and south east Wales. That suggests the problems of Forlorn Hope Farm are imported rather than home-grown. Yorkshire does not appear to have bTB in its wildlife and occasional cases are generally attributed to cattle movements. But the threat has been moving north.
Defra now has four years of cattle movements in and out of Forlorn Hope to follow up – dating back to the last all-clear for TB – and there might be more knock-ons to find, but none have shown up so far and movement restrictions apply only to Mr Jackson's cattle and traced contacts which have not yet been cleared. Mr Jackson believes he bought an infected heifer from Carlisle, which somehow scraped through pre-movement testing. It was the only animal to fail the skin test. Six, including the bull, then failed the blood test. But no confirmatory lesions were then found in the five sent for slaughter. The bull passed two more skin tests administered by the farm’s own vet. And Mr Jackson discovered that the one positive test had relied on blood from more than one sample, because of problems with the samples. However, Defra said it was happy that its procedure had been scientifically sound.
Dr Taylor, Animal Health, said: " I appeal to people in Yorkshire to think hard before they purchase from high-risk areas or animals which might have come into contact with high risks." However, Ken Jackson’s said he had not bought stock from high-risk areas. Dr Taylor said: “We might never know exactly how the TB got here. It might have been a contact with an infected animal rather than an import to this particular farm.”
Ken Jackson had been trying to fix a second test on the bull ever since it was diagnosed as a bTB carrier in March. He was suspicious of the result for various reasons. Only about one in three of the farm animals slaughtered to contain TB in cattle over the past few years has been confirmed as infected after death and, in most cases, there has been no post-mortem examination, despite scientific advice to the Department of Food Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra) to prove the reliability of its tests. But Defra insisted it must eliminate all animals, which test positive once, to be on the safe side. The National Farmers Union, which has been assisting Ken Jackson, broadly agrees there is no alternative to the Defra policy.
For five months, Ken Jackson has argued that it would be a crime to put down his prize bull without a second opinion on whether it has been infected by TB. Boxster was allowed to live while the argument went on - under strict conditions. His paddock is surrounded by two fences, one electric and one spiked. Only Mr Jackson and Kate can go in and they have to wear special clothes, kept in an isolated hut, along with all the bull’s food and grooming kit. In August 2010 he heard that Hallmark Boxster is indeed a very splendid bull. From his confinement in quarantine, Boxy, as the Jacksons’ call him, has got himself in the running to be declared best of his kind in the UK. Judges from the British Blonde Society visited him in his ‘condemned cell’ in Yorkshire for a second look, to see if he deserved a national as well as a regional title in a competition open to more than 550 herds in nine regions of the whole UK. Mr Jackson knew that Hallmark Boxster was his best-ever bull and with the help of his married daughter, Kate McNeil, who does a lot of the show work, they swept away all competition on last summer’s tour of the agricultural shows. Ironically, the judges arrived just after the Jacksons’ got an ultimatum from Animal Health, the veterinary division of Defra. After considering all the arguments put up by the National Farmers Union and the Jacksons’, Defra remains adamant - the bull cannot have a retest and must be slaughtered in the coming week or they will come and do it themselves.
“When we entered the competition, we were hoping for recognition of the herd quality as a bit of a boost for my Dad,” said Kate yesterday. “When the judges came, they asked to see our stock bull and we explained the situation. But they still wanted to see him. We were floored when they told us he was best in the region and to get him ready for another round of judging, for the national competition for stock bulls. Any other time, it would have been the best possible news for any breeder that he might have the best bull in the country. But at the moment, even to give Boxy a scratch over the fence means using a stick and then dipping it in disinfectant, which is heartbreaking. It is hard to believe an animal which looks so fine has got anything wrong with him.”
The Yorkshire Post has been following Ken’s story with interest and, sadly, the slaughter of the bull is now imminent. The Yorkshire Post has found similar stories. One farmer had lost a valuable bull to a Defra test in February 2010. The bull was the only positive reactor in the herd and neither visual inspections nor tissue culture tests revealed anything after his death.
Above posted 8/8/10
Update below (again with thanks to Chris Benfield of Yorkshire Post) posted 3/9/20
A JUDGE has told Government officials they should give champion bull Hallmark Boxster another chance to prove himself clear of bovine TB. The judge ordered a postponement of Defra's threat of execution at least until after a review in court of the bull owner's argument that Boxster was unfairly condemned, on the basis of a blood test which was not properly performed and gave only a marginal indication that he was a TB carrier. Ken Jackson's lawyers successfully applied for an injunction restraining Defra, in a meeting with Mr Justice Collins in chambers at the High Court in London.
In view of the objections to the way Defra had handled the case, the judge said, he had 'indicated' that the best way forward would be for its vets to re-run the test – especially as farmer Ken Jackson, of Stubbs Walden, north of Doncaster, had offered to pay for it.
Defra has always resisted farmers' requests for second tests because its TB containment policy relies on acting to be on the safe side in any cases of doubt. But in this case, it picked on one of the most valuable British Blonde bulls in the country and failed to convince Mr Jackson that its verdict was beyond question. Now it is faced with backing down from its insistence on no second chances or risking a test-case verdict which will weaken its position in future.
The Welsh Assembly won the last full-scale legal challenge to the same controversial policy after an epic battle in 2007 with Hindu monks trying to save a black Friesian bull called Shambo, which had a sacred role at their temple near Llanpumsaint, Carmarthenshire. The Hindus disputed the reliability of the test and questioned the proportionality of the Defra policy. They got a ruling in their favour in the Administrative Court of the High Court – the same division to which Mr Jackson has applied – but it was overturned on appeal.
The Yorkshire challenge is based on more specific criticism of the mechanics of Defra's laboratory procedure. But if it goes to court, it will almost certainly lead to a re-examination of the Welsh government's claim, in the Shambo case, that the Defra tests were 99.9 per cent accurate.
The tests are not foolproof and Hallmark Boxster is a special case. Assisted by his daughter, Kate McNeil, who has done a lot of the care and showing of the bull, Mr Jackson and NFU lawyers established that a problem with the blood samples meant Defra's veterinary division, Animal Health, had not followed its usual procedures exactly. Defra said its compromises in the laboratory had made no material difference. The NFU eventually gave up the fight and Defra gave notice it would seize the bull but Mr Jackson hired the lawyers to carry on fighting, at his own expense. A spokesman for Jacksons Law Firm, of Stockton-on-Tees, said: "We expect to get a date for judicial review by the end of next week. But the judge said he had given an indication to Defra that he feels the sensible course, to meet everybody's concerns, is that they agree to retest, particularly as the Jacksons have offered to pay. However, the suggestion does not form part of the order itself and Defra are not compelled to agree to carry out a retest at this stage."
Mr Jackson said: "What happens next is up to Defra."
An interesting comment has been received from Prof Dr PR Torgerson (co-author of the report 'Public Health and Tuberculosos: What's All The Fuss About'. He says: 'despite the fact that bTB is only transmitted to humans by milk (and my schoolboy biology suggests that the bull is unlikely to ever produce any milk), the animal is treated like it has the plague. It is clear that DEFRA does not understand the concept of positive predictive value. A test might be highly specific (and actually I do not believe that to be true, but that is another story). DEFRA claim the skin test is 99.9% specific. That means for every 1000 healthy (non infected) cattle tested it will be negative in 999 and (false) positive in 1 case. So DEFRA make the jump that it is highly accurate. Accuracy and specificity are not the same. Lets go to Yorkshire. The prevalence of bTB is very low. Let's say the prevalence in Yorkshire is 0.1% - i.e. 1 in 1000 animals have bTB. Test 1000 animals. If the test is 100% sensitive (and actually it is only 70-80%, but lets be generous to DEFRA), the test will find that 1 animal in 1000 that has the disease. That leaves 999 who are healthy. But for every 1000 healthy animals, the test falsely gives a positive result in 1 animal. So one would expect in a group of 1000 animals where the actual prevalence of the disease is 0.1% to have two test positive results. One is a true positive, one a false positive. But which one is which cannot be determined without a second test. With an expensive animal one can easily argue that because there is really only a 50:50 chance of the animal having the disease, you should have a second test. Of course if the specificity is less that 99.9% and sensitivity is less than 100%, the probability of the animal having the disease despite a positive skin test drops well below 50%'.
An interesting comment from Ruth (email 5/9/10)
'1. The sample should be repeated, properly labelled and retested according to the test recommendations of handling, transport and testing within a certain time period of taking the sample, and in a test batch where the appropriate controls are set up in the laboratory and give valid results.
2. There are still no proper details with this case. I am assuming the test done on the bull is a Bovigam blood test.
3. I do not know if the bull has been skin tested and what the results are for the herd likewise, and if any test positive animals have been shown to have M bovis infection after slaughter.
4. I am interested to know why gamma interferon testing is being done on the bull or on the herd. Is this additional to skin testing?
5. I have reservations about the Bovigam blood test. Most animals slaughtered on the basis of the Bovigam test have a very low postive result and the test is never repeated animals being slaughtered forthwith. The separation of the postive from the negative test results is far too small in my view to be reliable and would not be acceptable in the laboratory for human testing, where confirmation of a positive result would normally be sought, beginning with repeating the test and having a second blood sample to test (this is the procedure that is practised with HIV or HCV before a diagnosis is given to a human). Some animals particularly those under 6 months of age can give a non-specific positive result, a false positive, from activation of their natural killer cells which release interferon in response to the tuberculin proteins. Dr Vordermeier himself does not recommend the test for animals under 6 months of age. Other mycobacteria infections can give rise to positive results on the bovigam test, M kansasii for instance. These are not frequent apparently in british cattle but have been known to occur (again conversation with Dr Vordermeier)
6. On the same principle as the bovigam test the human gamma interferon test uses peptides that make it more specific, and exclude reactivity from BCG vaccination. This same test is developed and used in the TB laboratory at Weybridge and I think it is this test that should be requested by this family on their bull. M kansasii can give a response to one of the 2 peptides, but response to both or any further ones included can be checked for on the ELISPOT method where the test is done individually on each peptide and the foci of gamma interferon producing cells counted.
7. I suggest this family contact the farm in Oxfordshire, where DEFRA rushed to apply the Bovigam test to their large organic dairy herd. It resulted in over a 100 animals being slaughtered not one of which had TB on post mortem; particularly their pregnant heifers gave low positives on the Bovigam test. Eventually DEFRA gave up on retesting for the 4th time the inconclusive animals on the skin test which had all been negative on the gamma interferon test. I don't believe a single animal was positive on the standard skin test, only inconclusive. This all came about because a heifer sent for slaughter in a distant organic abattoir in Surrey had TB lesions with a spoligotype which was not local nor from an area they had ever purchased their very few bought-in animals from. It may have been a misidentification. DEFRA have little experience of testing large herds with the Bovigam test and could not explain why such a large number of animals negative on the skin test gave a positive Bovigam result. The cattle owners obtained the results so I was able to plot them and see the unsatisfactory performance of the test. We visited Luddington laboratory where the test was done and by and large it seemed to have been correctly done according to their protocol though the reporting was not satisfactory- they were to change their practice.
8. The problem is in my view that the modern microbiology has not been done on M bovis in badger and cattle populations in the field. The cattle are always slaughtered forthwith and the badgers have never had detailed microbiology on their population. Almost all involved in the animal epidemic of M bovis have not had microbiology specialist training, including mycobacteria, and the only specialists are human doctors trained in TB and the research scientists in mycobacteriology labs- I have mentioned before of the bias in taking opinion only from people who must apply for research funding compared to public servants such as doctors trained in TB, the latter must give a disinterested opinion and be peer reviewed, they are also held to account.
I don't think I have enough time to respond in detail on the validation of the Bovigam test - suffice to say that truly negative and positve populations in the field need to be tested and compared to another gold standard test to work out specificity and sensitivity. I remember that Professor Young (a scientist head of the M bovis DEFRA panel) said to me some years ago that they were having trouble in finding farms to sample all the cattle and provide the negative population for the test. I thought he might mean that farmers didn't want to co-operate but it might also have meant that a number of these bloods tested positve and they could not work out why.
With thanks to the Yorkshire Post for the information. (www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/Legal-battle-wins-lastminute-reprieve.6695202.jp)
Boxster has been given another last-minute reprieve to allow his owners to continue their fight for him to be spared from slaughter. Mr Jackson and his family claim there are doubts over the accuracy of Defra tests and the one on Boxster in particular. A High Court judge put the order against Boxster on hold while an application for judicial review was considered. But the written application was rejected and at the time Defra was expected to come to slaughter Boxsterd Mr Justice Calvert Smith issued a new injunction, to give the Jacksons' lawyers time to try again. The case is listed for 26 January 2011 when they will argue for permission for a full hearing.
Daniel Stilitz QC, appearing for the farmer, said it was an unusual case and it was not being suggested that re-tests should become routine in bovine TB cases. But he said: "Rushing headlong into slaughter undermines the (testing) regime rather than giving it credibility."
Julie Anderson, for Defra, said it was EU law that once an animal had tested positive, it must be slaughtered and could not be saved by a re-test. "There is a disease risk," she added. "That risk is being contained but no one is suggesting it is eliminated."
Ken Jackson, of Forlorn Hope Farm, and Kate McNeil are going to the High Court in London (seeking a judicial review) to make one last attempt to save the life of Hallmark Boxter, also known as Boxy.To recap South Yorkshire farmer and his daughter are challenging a decision to slaughter their "much-loved" prize-winning bull after it tested positive for bovine TB. They dispute the validity of the TB test that condemned their 'unique and irreplaceable' showground champion and want the positive test declared null and void by the courts and a re-test.
Julie Anderson, appearing for Defra, says the bull poses a dangerous threat of spreading bovine TB and must be destroyed, and says there was ‘no evidence whatsoever’ the positive blood sample had been contaminated. Ms Anderson opposed moves by the farmers’ lawyers to call oral evidence and cross-examine witnesses, including Defra technicians who conducted the test, to support their case that Boxter’s blood samples had been mixed.
At the start of the hearing held week commencing 14/3/11, Ms Anderson opposed moves by the farmers’ lawyers to call oral evidence and cross examine witnesses, including Defra technicians who conducted the test, to support their case that Boxter’s blood samples had been mixed. As she made her submissions, the judge told her: 'I don’t like the strident manner in which this case is being put from the beginning.' He likened it to ‘we know best – the nanny state knows best’. He was also extremely concerned over the way Defra was putting the case simply as 'black and white', which it definitely was not. The judge said the Defra case 'might be right - might be wrong” in its arguments, but there was evidence of 'increasing anger and stridency' in Defra documents before the court that was 'wholly misplaced'. He told the court the way some documents had been presented just raised hackles.
Ms Anderson said if that was the position, it was entirely her error - “I am sorry I have done that.” She told the court that Defra had gone to great lengths to ‘take the farmers with them’ over the bovine TB issue and the testing regime was of benefit to everybody. Many farmers may well disagree!
The judge ruled that oral evidence should be given and witnesses cross-examined.
After many hours of legal argument the judge reserved his judgment. Shortly after
UPDATE 12 June 2011 (with thanks to the Yorkshire Post)
A skin test was performed on Boxster in June 2011 (shortly after the result of the hearing). He passed this, revealing no reaction.
But the Jacksons’ agony of uncertainty is still not over.
The skin test, is the standard initial screening for TB, and despite him showing no reaction at all, which is a strong sign that he has never been infected, Defra forced the owners to have him blood tested too.
The Jacksons reluctantly allowed another blood sample on 7th June 2011 and were expecting the result of laboratory tests on that, too but DEFRA said the sample had clotted, so it could not be properly analysed.
Dcefra wants to come back and take yet another blood sample but the Jacksons argue they might get a false positive arising from the skin test procedure. They say the Department should wait until Boxster is due for his second skin test, 60 days from the first.
The bull has to remain in quarantine anyway until after a second negative skin test.
The Jackson family and a delegation from Animal Health, DEFRA’s veterinary service, have been discussing this but no agreement has been reached..
Mr and Mrs Jackson’s married daughter, Kate McNeil, said: “Obviously we are over the moon that he has passed his skin test on the severest interpretation. Normally, a second good skin-test result would be enough to clear an animal. Cattle are being moved around the country and herds are being declared TB-free all the time on the basis of skin tests. “But because there was once an infected animal in our herd, DEFRA is insisting on the extra test – although the rest of the herd has been testing clean for ages and if Boxster had ever been infected, he would be riddled with it by now. DEFRA has failed to give us an understandable reason why they are treating him differently or why they cannot wait 60 days. We want to establish whether they are quoting the law at us or just their own policy. We don’t want to speculate on motives. We only want an end to all this. We have allowed DEFRA to take two blood samples and they have made a mess of both, through no fault of ours. It actually requires quite a lot of preparation – hiring a crush, for a start, to keep the bull still while they do it.”
DEFRA fought hard against allowing Boxster a re-test because it was worried about setting a precedent and must be hoping to prove that its diagnosis was right in the first place. But it has explained its behaviour by saying it has to always act on the safe side if it hopes to contain TB effectively.
With thanks to Chris Benfield of the Yorkshire Post (Johnson Press Ltd) for some of the text for this story.
BOXY the champion 5 year old bull, after a 17-month wrangle over a bungled test for bovine TB, was formally declared free of the disease in August 2011. The result vindicates the Jackson family's decision to fight a slaughter order issued in April 2010 by the Leeds division of Animal Health, the veterinary service of the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs. The Jacksons successfully challenged the order on the grounds that the blood test was not carried out properly. Defra has spent a lot of taxpayers' money defending the mistake and could be paying out considerably more. In April this year, a High Court judge ruled that Defra had broken its own rules by mixing two blood samples and its diagnosis was invalid.
Defra argued in court that its breach of procedure was trivial and irrelevant. And it continued to hope and believe it would be proved right in the long run. But in June the bull passed a repeat of the skin test (which he had initially passed). Despite this the vets insisted on another blood test as well as a second skin test. The Jacksons objected for several reasons - not least because it meant trusting Defra to be objective in the privacy of its own laboratories. The results of the latest skin test was negative. "I am over the moon," said Mr Jackson. "The irony is that a second blood test is all I asked for in the first place."
He wanted a second opinion on the British Blonde bull because of the value of the animal and because he knew there had been some difficulty getting blood samples from it.
The wrangle has meant that Boxster has been out of action for nearly 18 months of the prime of his life. The cost of the sons and daughters he has not produced is one consequence of Defra's mistake.
Dermott Thomas, a spokesman for the Ipswich solicitors who handled the case, Barker Gotelee, said that an agreement had been reached with Defra on legal costs. Compensation was a possibility to be discussed.
Defra has confirmed: "This bull can be regarded as officially TB-free." Its statement defended its TB policy and made no apology for its behaviour in this case. But it said it would settle the Jacksons' legal costs within 10 days.
One effect of the case has been to make it more difficult for Defra to perform blood tests. It emerged in evidence that technicians often used two partial blood samples to make up one full one. But that is a breach of guidelines and the judge ruled that farmers were entitled to expect best practice.
Update 13/12/11 from Yorkshire Post http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/country-view/farming/farm_of_the_week_it_s_back_to_normality_for_boxster_1_4048301
This saga cost the Jacksons a whopping £124,000 in legal fees to get the all-clear Ken Jackson always predicted, plus 18 months of lost business, plus time at the High Court and the stress of doing all that on a remortgage and an overdraft. Defra offered £90,000 and he has now settled for it, rather than go back to court. But he did get to keep his bull. And he has ensured a bit more rigour in a testing regime which almost certainly makes more mistakes than Defra wants to admit.
“If you had told me in the first place what it would cost me, I would probably still have done it,” he says now.
Ken's daughter, Kate McNeil, 37, played a big part in the Boxster story. She started off as a lab technician. And knowing how easily a blood sample could be spoiled, she led the attack on Defra’s insistence that there was no reason to doubt its test on Boxster. Technicians had had difficulty getting a sample and had mixed two.
On the way to proving this was a serious error, Kate was amazed at the number of ways in which the existing ramshackle system might get it wrong. For example, the ‘skin test’ for TB, on which so much depends, amounts to the difference in the bumps made by two pinches of flesh – one before an injection of sterilised TB culture and one after. Pinches vary. Animals vary. Kate is writing a book explaining how they came to doubt almost everything the vets said was certain.
“One thing I am sure of,” she says, “is they should be taking a long hard look at the whole system.”