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US firm LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae has made an unusual appearance at Tynedale Magistrates Court in Hexham, Northumberland.
The tiny court played host to a team led by insurance partner David Wilkinson following the firm's decision to represent Robert Waugh - the farmer blamed for the outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth in the UK. Completely unknown for its criminal work, LeBoeuf's involvement with beleaguered pig farmer Waugh is, on a cursory inspection, difficult to understand. Wilkinson said: "Under normal circumstances there is no reason on earth why someone like Robert Waugh would choose us." The National Farmers Union's (NFU) head of legal Colin Hall was also bemused. He said that he had not come across the case, but said: "If he had come to us, we'd have referred him to Jacksons in Stockton-on-Tees." Jacksons is the NFU panel firm servicing the North East. LeBoeuf's involvement in the case can be traced back to longstanding client NFU Mutual Insurance Society. Along with Berrymans Lace Mawer and Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, LeBoeuf provides much of the insurer's external advice. Wilkinson said: "We're delighted to act for NFU Mutual Insurance on such a high-profile issue as Foot-and-Mouth. The case is multifaceted, complex and involves very wide-ranging legal analysis." Robert Waugh and his brother Ronald have been prosecuted by Northumberland County Council's trading standards department and face charges under the Animal Health Act 1981 and the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Allegations include failure to notify officials that animals had Foot-and-Mouth, failure to correctly dispose of animal carcasses and cruelty to pigs. Wilkinson said that it was obviously a sensitive case that required careful handling and that NFU Mutual has brought out its big guns for this high-profile case. The impact of Foot-and-Mouth and the consequent claims implications for the insurer have rendered the matter of considerable concern. NFU Mutual preferred not to comment, but John Kenny in the claims department reiterated that it was the company's relationship with the firm, and particularly Wilkinson, that steered the work in LeBoeuf's direction.