July 2000

[Week 30 · July 24th - 30th - 2000]


ITV's 'Tonight' programme this last week told the story behind the killing, by Tony Martin, of an intruder who broke into his remote Norfolk country house, while news that Martin has been given leave to appeal against his life sentence also emerged.

The whole Martin affair brings clearly into focus the lack of law enforcement in many isolated rural areas; the inhabitants left to fend for themselves, as Martin did, but then finding out the State does not uphold their rights of self-preservation. The 'Tonight' programme painted a picture of the area around Martin's farm almost being like frontier country - he was burgled some ten times previously, while other neighbours talked of everyone knowing someone who had been burgled, and that 'if it isn't fixed, it walks'.

It is all very well for the inhabitants of urban areas to regard Martin's actions as excessive - perhaps they were - but when there is no police presence and the nearest neighbour might be a mile away, not within shouting distance of the house or flat next door, then the rural resident has even more cause for concern when someone breaks an entry. Furthermore, there is every possibility that the intruder will be armed. In Martin's case he shot first into the darkness, but he could so easily have been the victim himself....

The other major rural topic of the week was the sacking of Welsh agricultural secretary Christine Gwyther on the eve of the Welsh Royal Show. As a vegetarian Gwyther's original appointment must have bemused the Welsh farming community. However, many farmers were unhappy with her performance, and the President of the Welsh Farmers Union welcomed her dismissal. A more charitable line taken by some was that she done her best in difficult times.


The EC Commission has been told to reduce its agriculture budget next year - over 300m will be cut.

[Week 29 · July 17th - 23rd - 2000]


Lager louts, burglary and motorcycle madness in the lanes. These are some of the complaints that the good citizens of Edenbridge have concerning the current state of affairs in their community. More precisely, they are annoyed about the closure of their local police station and withdrawal of police officers - from six full-timers on the beat down to two, and the high street police station being opened for two-hour evening surgeries instead of full time manning. As a consequence the people of Edenbridge don't feel they are getting the protection they deserve. CCTV cameras have been installed in the high street, but emergencies are handled via Sevenoaks, some 20 minutes away.

To focus the minds of those who make the policy and sign the cheques, a local housewife (who is also a member of Neighbourhood Watch) has started a campaign threatening to withold council tax payments until adequate policing is restored.

The campaign has the support of hundreds of local people, with a couple of thousand red postcards - to be mailed to the Kent Police Authority and announcing the witholding payment threat - finding their way into the eager hands of fellow protestors.

It is odd to think that in the not very distant past portions of inner city populations rebelled violently over poll tax, yet now the rural community feels that the tax issue is a weapon to achieve change.

Everyone living in the countryside who was keenly waiting to hear the government's plans for transport in the countryside now knows the details. Many pundits feel that the billions of pounds earmarked for transport has mostly bypassed the rural community, although John Prescott announced 50 new bypass schemes, is extending the rural bus subsidy, and is raising the Rural Transport Fund from 60 million to 95 million. The latter has caused indignation among some country dwellers who regard the 35 million a year increase as a drop in the ocean when compared to the billions to be spent on transport in the next decade.

  [Week 28 · July 10th - 16th - 2000]


One of the main news stories to hit the headlines this week has been the discovery of a 'cluster' of cases of variant CJD around the Leicestershire village of Queniborough. In 1998 three people who died from vCJD were regular visitors to the area or lived there, another person who died from the disease this year also lived in the area. There is now a full scale investigation of the cases; statisticians monitoring vCJD advising that this is more than a simple coincidence.

As the causes and possible links between vCJD and BSE continue to elude scientists (even this weekend a leading scientist has suggested that the inclusion of certain beef products in baby food during the 1980s may explain vCJD deaths among a younger age group), it is to be hoped that the tragic deaths which have taken place in the Leicestershire cluster may provide a window which helps solve the riddle of this terrible disease.

The other health item to hit the news is that the Lincolnshire Against Cancer group is organising a cancer survey in the area around Boston. This follows earlier revelations of a cluster of breast, and other cancers among women in the area. While there is no proven connection at the moment, and an open mind should be kept, there is a suspicion that exposure to an environment (and seasonal work in the agricultural and horticultural industries) which use pesticides may be behind the cancers.

Other items...
Last weekend a march organised by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association saw many thousands of gamekeepers and hunt supporters march through Edinburgh as a protest against a Bill to be introduced in the Scottish Parliament to outlaw hunting.

The government has been warned by NFU President, Ben Gill, and the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, Austin Mitchell, that it must do something about the overvalued pound which is impacting on the agricultural industry. Mitchell's constituency lies right beside the larger rural seats of Lincolnshire. He is also on the HoC Agriculture Select Committee, and warned that if Labour wanted to hold on to its rural seats they must act to help farmers.

[Week 27 · July 3rd - 9th - 2000]


This week has, of course, been dominated by the annual Royal Show at Stoneleigh Park. At a service on the eve of the show the Archibishop of Canterbury, George Carey, told the congregation that the fall of commodity prices and the BSE crisis has taken a terrible toll on farming families and their morale.

The Archbishop urged greater unity between town and country, lest we end up with a divided society, and pointed out that the countryside should not be viewed simply as green and pleasant theme park.

On a different tack, the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) used the Show to launch their first ever child safety exhibition; prompted by 44 deaths from farm accidents last year, four fatalities being children.

Something we missed out in the previous week was an interesting maiden speech made by Lord (Leon) Brittan in the House of Lords. In this he suggested that the controversial Countryside and Rights of Way Bill could fall foul of European Human Rights legislation because the Government was refusing to pay farmers and landowners any compensation for opening up their land to the general public.

Natural justice suggests that it should not be down to farmers to foot any bills for making good damage to their property or any increased insurance premiums that result. If the public want this freedom of access then any running or repair costs should be paid out of public funds - perhaps a half penny on income tax? This compensation angle is obviously something which is going to continue in the coming months.

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