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Sheep Farm Left With at Least £20,000 Loss After Horrific Attack on 100 Sheep

Court fines guilty man £400 with no compensation

NFU Scotland has hit out at the Scottish legal system after a West Lothian farm was left with a £20,000 loss following a horrendous attack by dogs on its sheep flock.

The Union is calling for the Scottish Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to treat incidents of sheep worrying with greater seriousness and ensure that farmers and land owners whose livelihoods depend on these animals are properly recompensed for their losses.

The devastating attack on the 100 ewes and lambs owned by the Hamilton family at Cairns Farm, Kirknewton, saw 70 sheep mauled to death or later put down on humane grounds by the farm’s vet.

The event, which happened 18 months ago, saw the owner of the dogs – a Bull Mastiff and two Border Collies – charged with the incident.  However, last week saw the owner plead guilty to an amended charge at Livingston Justice of the Peace Court.  He received a £400 fine and, as a result of the amended charge, no compensation was awarded to the Hamilton family for their losses or the deep trauma that the incident caused.

The only recourse open to the Hamilton family to secure compensation for their losses is to consider a civil claim.

This incident – and the disappointing manner in which has been treated by the Scottish legal system – will be a worrying development for Scottish sheep farmers as they prepare for lambing.  As spring approaches, and more people get out and about walking in the countryside, the Union is urging dog walkers to be responsible and to abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access code to help avoid distressing incidents like these. By keeping dogs on leashes, and away from fields, livestock worrying can be avoided.

Caroline Hamilton of Cairns Farm, commented: “We wouldn’t want any other farmer to go through what we have. The fine handed to this man was worthless compared to the trauma and loss we have suffered.

“When we went to check out flock, what we found was devastating. There were 85 ewes – a third of our flock - covered in blood, some were dead and some with injuries to their neck and faces.  We came across three dogs – we shot one, one ran away and another we caught. We were instructed by police to return the one that we caught back to its owner.

“It took over two days to gather the ewes and their lambs in from the hill, a job that normally takes three to four hours. Many were so traumatised that they had to be lifted and brought in with the quad bike and trailer. Ewes and lambs were hiding in ditches, and behind rushes, bleeding from the neck and face, some had been attacked the previous day or two and, because of the warm weather, wounds were already infested with maggots.

“For our flock, there were many ewes who had been too badly injured to ever breed again. That, as well as the continuous veterinary costs for the dressing of wounds and antibiotics, leaves us with a huge financial burden. The impact on other farmers whose livestock are killed and injured by dogs is immeasurable. How can we, farmers, and the farming community at large possibly trust the legal system from here on?

“We feel we have been completely let down by the legal system, there appears to be no appreciation of the severity of the impact such a case has on ourselves or indeed the agricultural community. We honestly and truthfully thought that we would see justice in the court. But we have been left speechless.

“The pain and trauma those defenceless ewes were put through has left our family devastated. The affection we have for our livestock is immense, it would be impossible to do this job without it and to see the pain, shock and trauma these ewes went through will never leave me or my husband.”

Gemma Thomson, NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical Policy Manager, commented: “Sheep worrying has become more common in recent years in Scotland, and the impact and devastation an incident of this nature has had on the Hamilton family is evident.

“To lose a third of their flock within the space of two days in such a vicious attack is heart-breaking.

“We need the COPFS to treat incidents of sheep worrying with the utmost seriousness and for those responsible to be held to account appropriately. The £400 fine handed down by the courts is in no way a comfort, or consolation, for at least £20,000 worth of costs, through the loss of sheep, veterinary and legal costs, not to mention the pain and trauma this attack has had on the Hamilton family.

“As lambing approaches, it is even more important that dog owners keep their dogs under proper control. In vast areas of farmland, like Cairns Farm, the livestock may be out of sight, but owners should use their common sense and keep dogs on a lead.

“As this incident shows, the consequences for the farmer can be devastating, and the dog owner is ultimately answerable where sad events like this happen.  Access to the countryside is something which can be enjoyed by all, but ultimately that access must be of a responsible nature.”

Notes to Editors

  • Photographs from the attack are available on request by calling 0131 472 4108 or emailing media@nfus.org.uk.
  • Caroline Hamilton is available for interview. Please contact 0131 472 4108 or ruth.mcclean@nfus.org.uk.

Ends

Contact Ruth McClean on 0131 472 4108

Date Published:

News Article No.: 34/15


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