Thursday, 27 June 2013

Farming news

A case brought by Carmarthenshire County Council against one of its councillors, Sian Caiach, has ended with the councillor being ordered to pay £11,365 in costs and fines relating to her flock of sheep.

The charges against Cllr Caiach were that some bones were found in one of her fields, that some of the sheep were suffering from fly strike and that one animal was lame.

The council originally brought 10 separate charges against Cllr Caiach, but agreed to drop 7 of them if she agreed to plead to three of the more minor counts.

For her part, Cllr Caiach is adamant that there was insufficient evidence to make the other 7 charges stick, but that she was strongly advised to plead to the three other charges and forgo an appeal because of the  prospect of rapidly escalating and massive costs. Because she was not eligible for legal aid, Cllr Caiach will have to meet all of the costs out of her own pocket.

In bringing 10 charges against her, the council engaged the services of a top flight legal team and an expert witness who produced a report at a cost of more than £8,000.

The case has been reported extensively in the local press, including the verdict under the slightly odd  headline Court orders Llanelli mum to pay out £11k in sheep carcass case.

Anyone who reads the local press will have seen reporting of stories of prosecutions of farmers for neglect and cruelty from time to time. A quick trawl through the archives of Welsh local papers suggests that almost invariably these involve gross neglect or cruelty on an altogether different scale, with reports of numbers of carcasses strewn across fields or lying in sheds, starving horses and cattle and slow, lingering deaths.

That was not the case here.

It is also not the case that all serious cases are prosecuted. Cneifiwr knows of one case in Carmarthenshire of appalling neglect and cruelty on a local farm which featured on Y Byd ar Bedwar. No action appears to have been taken.

Fly strike is a major problem for sheep farmers, and it is particularly bad in wet years such as 2012. Farmers are advised to check their flocks on a daily basis, and the expert witness used in Cllr Caiach's case appears to have gone further and recommended checks more than once a day.

Fly strike develops very quickly, and the problem for farmers is that it can be difficult to detect in its early stages without close examination of each animal, especially before shearing. There will be very few sheep farmers who escape fly strike, and while the official advice is good, for most Welsh  farmers it is hardly practical.

In the same way anyone who has walked across fields in this part of the world will have come across bones. Where they come from and how old they are is usually impossible to say.

A sheep which can appear to be healthy in the morning can be dead for no apparent reason hours later, and carcasses can be stripped bare by red kites, ravens, crows, foxes and badgers within a very short time. They are also no respecters of property boundaries, and bones from a dead animal can end up being scattered over a large area.

Cllr Caiach says that she does not know where the bones came from, and that all of her animals were accounted for. The expert witness nevertheless concluded from looking at photographs that a pinkish tinge suggested that the animal could have died fairly recently.

If fly strike and the presence in fields of old bones are to be used as a basis for prosecuting sheep farmers, the courts and lawyers will be kept very busy indeed. The Daily Telegraph painted a picture of what can happen to farmers when councils become heavy handed a couple of years ago (here).

The last couple of years have been difficult, to say the least, for this councillor who is one of the fiercest critics of the officer-led regime in County Hall.

  • Before the council elections last year she was placed under punitive "special measures" by the Chief Executive and forbidden to ask questions of any council officer other than the Chief Executive himself.
  • In July last year the Ombudsman for Public Services dismissed a long series of complaints and accusations made against her by the Chief Executive.
  • It recently came to light that an unknown senior officer in the council had ordered the councillor's e-mail account to be monitored.
 The offending flock of rare breed sheep has since been sold.


Anonymous said...

Young Man { I am in a generous mood } I think you are reading too much into this - could be the said ex Dr present County Councillor , mother of 4, be nothing more than a careless farmer .
I do not think the Chief Exec has a team of " dirty tricks men " who carry around dead sheep or rather sheep bones in the boot of the CCC unmarked car . Next think we will see is the aforesaid former farmer , doctor , mother, councillor standing up in the Chamber and accusing CCC of secretly filming here .

Cneifiwr said...

Anon 9.56 - where did I say that CCC had a team of dirty tricks men?

That reminds me of the last council meeting at which the chief exec became very indignant about allegations that nobody had made that the council had a department of spies.

Suggest you re-read the article.

Anonymous said...

Members of the ruling group (ind a few years back) have been prosecuted in the past. I think that demonstrates that the council don't pick prosecutions on political grounds and have to prosecute when a responsible chance of conviction is presented after a report of an a offence has been made. Is a member of the public reports an offence then the council have a duty to enforce it, an argument that cllr ciach has often applied to other public bodies such as the health board. One rule for all, even if it's slightly disappointing that a good councillor falls foul.

Patricia B. said...

Anon 10:18

It is true that CCC have a DUTY to enforce offences when they are reported - whether it be neglect - planning - enforcement - whatever the case may be. It is also true however they are selective who they enforce against - in my case they chose to ignore serious planning issues and then as in Cll Caich's case I, the whistleblower/ complainer, 'thorn in their side' became enemy number one, who they hounded with untrue, false accusations to smear my name. Anyone who watched 'Dispatches' this week on smear campaigns should be in no doubt this practice is widespread and CCC. are not exempt.
It continues to this date as I am having to challenge yet again rumours being spread locally which are not true. IF I receive an explanation I will post it on this blog. I sympathise hugely with Cll. Caich as one who has experienced the wrath of CCC.

Jac o' the North, said...

This was a politically motivated prosecution by an out-of-control and increasingly vindictive council. Anyone doubting this is naive or disingenuous.

The tactic was straight from the Handbook for Aspiring Tyrants. Especially the "anonymous member of the public". Loved that bit!

Anonymous said...

How many people have CCC prosecuted over blow fly in the last 12 months? Very few I suspect.
How many people have CCC prosecuted over a dead animal in their field, that wasn't even one of theirs? Again, very few I suspect. Prosecuted for a lamb that was born lame? Certainly seems to me that CCC was being heavy handed in this case. Any reasons do you think?

I also think the magistrate was being unreasonable in getting her to pay the costs for CCC getting expensive reports done, in the main for charges that were dropped. He must realise that it was CCC's behaviour that got it to this strange. CCC offered the plea bargain at the 11th hour, so they were responsible for getting witnesses to the court only to offer not to use them.

£8000 for one report, when the fine was only £1365 for the charges they pursued? The problem for anyone who comes up against CCC in court is that they can use their unlimited funds to smash the opposition.

Anonymous said...

Another heavy-handed punishment meted out by the law against someone who is quite obviously a thorn in the side of the council!
These recent cases show a somewhat desperate attempt by CCC to show strong arm tactics against those who question officers conduct.The money spent in prosecutions is disproportionate to the offences and a shocking waste of taxpayers money.`Also how independent are expert witnesses?.

Tessa said...

Hmm. Smacks of a smear campaign.

Anonymous said...

Not a plaid supporter but Sian has had a raw deal here I think. She is a good Councillor for her ward and that's what matters whatever party she belongs too.

Cneifiwr said...

I'd better hasten to add Anon @17.36 that Sian is not a member of Plaid.

Muppetman said...

i'll be interested to see just how common these prosecutions are - to which end I have submitted a FOI request...


Anonymous said...

Time to set up a fund which could be used to cover the costs/fines of all financial victims of CCC who seem to revel in sheer daylight robbery of absolutely anyone who challenges their nasty regime.