Bath firm Thring Townsend Lee & Pembertons has launched a £1.5m claim for 14 farmers against the two laboratories at the centre of last year’s foot and mouth outbreak.
Thring Townsend partner Peter Cusick (pictured) is leading the case against the two Pirbright laboratories, the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health (MAH), and Hilary Benn, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, as licensor and regulator of the Pirbright facility.
Eight farms were infected with the disease, which escaped from the laboratories run by the Government at Pirbright in August 2007.
Cusick said: “The case against the Government relates to their role as the regulator of the sites. They had a duty to the farmers to perform that role properly and failed to do that in a number of respects. “
The claimants allege that IAH and Merial were negligent because live FMD virus was discharged into the facilities’ defective effluent drainage system, resulting in an escape of live FMD virus.
The claimants have the support of the National Farmers Union, whose thousands of members received no compensation for the losses suffered as a result of the export ban and movement restrictions that were introduced to control the spread of the infection.
NFU president Peter Kendall estimates that losses are in excess of £100m.
Cusick and the NFU have instructed Richard Lissack QC of Outer Temple to represent the claimants. Lissack is leading Tim Lord QC and Maya Lester.
MAH has instructed Covington & Burling litigation partner Roger Enock to represent the laboratory. He is yet to instruct counsel.