Two farming brothers from Gweek have been fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,000 for offences relating to TB fraud and breaching cattle identification regulations designed to prevent the spread of disease.
The hearing at Truro Crown Court marks the end of a lengthy investigation into an allegation that Thomas James and Paul Anthony Collins, of Trenoweth Farm, Gweek had submitted a cow for compensatory slaughter under the TB reactor removal programme which had its DNA tag cut out.
All cattle born in the UK after January 1998 are required to have ear tags applied to them in both ears, which are printed with a unique identification number to help control the spread of disease such as TB and BSE.
Under new rules introduced by DEFRA following cases of cattle identity fraud relating to TB reactors, a vet who identifies an animal infected by TB inserts a DNA tag into the ear. This tag removes a small piece of flesh which can then be used as a reference sample at a later date if fraud is suspected.
An investigation was carried out by Cornwall Council’s Public Health and Protection Animal Health team, supported by the local Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
This found that an unusual number of animals at the farm had replacement tags ordered for them over the previous 18 months, with tests showing that the DNA of some cattle did not match that of their mother’s as stated on their cattle passports. A further 24 cattle were found with no ear tags and, therefore, no way of establishing their identity.
Sheep carcases were also found on the farm which had not been correctly disposed of, presenting a disease risk to the live animals on the farm.
Although the brothers initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, they changed their pleas part way during the trial.
Thomas James Collins pleaded guilty to the re-use of an ear-tag number on a cow to which it was not originally assigned, failure to ear-tag 24 calves and failure to dispose of two sheep carcasses.
Paul Anthony Collins pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining TB compensation from AHVLA/DEFRA, to the re-use of an ear-tag number on a cow to which it was not originally assigned, and for the failure to ear-tag 24 calves.
Paul Collins was fined £3,000 for the fraud, and £500 for each regulatory offence, and Thomas Collins was fined £750 for each ear tag offence and £500 for the carcasses. Paul Collins was ordered to pay £4,000 in costs and his brother £3,000 in costs. The brothers were given 12 months to pay these costs and fines in full. Sentencing the brothers Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC singled out Paul Collins for his “breach of trust” and his deliberate plan to retag the injured cow as a reactor and criticised his “terrible mistake” defence.
He also challenged Thomas Collins over his “old fashioned views, anger, contempt and disdain for vets and inspectors” and said the officers were not picking on him but trying to enforce rules that exist for public confidence in agriculture.
Welcoming the sentencing Geoff Brown, the council’s cabinet member for homes and communities, said: “It is vitally important to maintain public confidence in the farming industry in Cornwall and we will work hard to achieve and improve this.
“That means we will always take appropriate and targeted action where obvious breaches of the law are occurring. “It is expensive to bring cases to the crown court but the costs of not dealing with TB are far greater nationally, locally and personally to many Cornish farmers. “We must do all we can to halt the spread of this devastating disease and illegal retention of reactor cattle on farm will not be tolerated.”