By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — In the first case of its kind, a Cork dairy farmer has been jailed for five years for his part in a conspiracy to deliberately introduce an animal infected with mad cow disease into his herd to collect compensation.
Cork Circuit Civil Court was told that James Sutton, 48, from Clonakilty, stood to gain £75,000 in premium compensation rates following the slaughter of his herd.
The infected animal had been bought in Northern Ireland and the ear tag swapped.
Judge A.G. Murphy said the scam threatened the whole economy and described it as an "enormous crime."
For Sutton and his family, the consequences have been personally devastating, the court was told. In addition to going to jail, he got no compensation for the slaughtering of his entire herd, he risks losing his farm with debts of £700,000, and his marriage has broken up.
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Another farmer is also before the courts in a similar case and two others are under investigation by police and agricultural inspectors.
The government has so far paid out over £40 million in compensation for the slaughtering of more than 57,000 head of cattle among the country’s 139,000 beef and dairy farmers.
Under the scheme to combat bovine spongiform encephalopathy, all of a farmer’s cattle are destroyed after a positive animal is discovered.
Attractive compensation is paid to encourage farmers to cooperate in reporting outbreaks of the disease.
When Department of Agriculture inspectors examined the 5- year-old BSE cow in Sutton’s herd in September 1996, they were suspicious about its ear tag identification and registration papers.
In addition, the cow had no horns, while the identity papers showed it should have had.
At the time, the government was spending millions on border security to prevent the importation of cattle from Northern Ireland.
Government figures show the rate of BSE in the 7.7 million national cattle herd is small — 0.0011826 percent.
There have been almost 500 BSE cases since the first infected cow was detected in January 1989.