Wednesday 29 Oct 2014
The real cost of the foot and mouth crisis which ravaged Cumbria a decade ago is revealed in an emotional documentary to be shown on BBC One on Monday 14 February.
Inside Out returns to the region to talk to those affected by the disaster and examines the human cost and lasting legacy of the outbreak.
Moving personal accounts of what the community went through 10 years ago – and which still resonate today – can be seen on Inside Out in the North East/Cumbria and the North West regions on BBC One, Monday 14 February at 7.30pm.
The economic cost of foot and mouth is well documented. Up to £5 billion was lost with between 6 and 10 million animals destroyed across the country.
The official enquiry found that this was probably the greatest social upheaval the country had suffered since the Second World War. Yet a Lancaster University study – which began monitoring the effects on Cumbria at the time of the outbreak – suggests that the damage caused to people's lives has not been recognised.
The university examined diaries, interviews, discussion and personal accounts of those in the thick of it. They found that the outbreak affected people of all ages and in all walks of life. Inside Out found that many are today still struggling to come to terms with what happened.
Teacher Elizabeth Rowland, from Bailey Mill near Newcastleton, kept a diary during that time. She tells the programme: "One morning I drove past three or four farms. I came to the brow of the hill and looked down. All you could see were 10 or more columns of smoke. It's vividly etched on my brain."
Moira Linaker, from Scaleby near Brampton, was trying to recover from the loss of her son in a motorbike accident when the disease struck. She was plunged into a crisis: "I was exhausted. It was going round and round in my brain. I'd wake up in a cold sweat, 'Oh God they're coming in the white coats'... The doctor suggested putting it down on paper. It could help. I started writing and couldn't stop."
She still finds it difficult to read from the book she wrote at the time. Her rare sheep were saved but she paid a price. She told Inside Out: "I was keen on barbecues. I've not had one since foot and mouth disease. I couldn't bear the smell of roasted meat. The smoke was everywhere..."
Peter Frost-Pennington, a retired vet, from Muncaster Castle near Seascale, volunteered to work for a few days and stayed for months. The vets were under huge pressure. They made the diagnosis and sometimes put the animals down. His account of the time was turned into a poem.
"There were a lot of tears," he says. "There were times we were warned that people had threatened to shoot us. But we accepted that there were very few like that. We accepted most were decent human beings."
The diaries also reveal the divisions that grew in the community at the time. Some farmers were suspected of deliberately spreading the disease so that they could receive large compensation payouts.
Sue Millard, a retired horse trainer from Tebay, watched the devastation unfold. She says: "I've heard of two stories of farmhouse windows being broken and the farmers (we know their names) being 'done over' with fists who were suspected of infecting their stock to claim the compensation."
She adds: "We were living in a war zone. Everything was shut down. You couldn't walk across a field. We didn't take the horses out. We were afraid somebody would think we were spreading foot and mouth disease."
The scale of the human damage hasn't decreased with time. Maggie Mort from Lancaster University explains. "People think that the 2001 epidemic was something that happened to animals and farmers. But it also involved people from all over the community and beyond. It's still out there. Those people saw things and did things that nobody should have to go through."
Inside Out can be seen on BBC One in the North East/Cumbria and the North West on Monday 14 February at 7.30pm.
Viewers outside these regions can view the programme on digital channel 978 or at bbc.co.uk/iplayer.
Please credit BBC Inside Out North East/Cumbria and/or BBC Inside Out North West, BBC One, Monday 14 February at 7.30pm.
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