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Farmer loses High Court bid to save stud alpaca Geronimo from being killed

By PA News

A “very valuable” alpaca is now set to be killed after a farmer lost a last-ditch High Court bid to save the animal from slaughter.

Helen Macdonald began a legal battle against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2018 in an attempt to save her stud alpaca, Geronimo, who tested positive twice for bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

The experienced alpaca breeder and veterinary nurse from south Gloucestershire previously argued there was “overwhelming evidence” which demonstrated that the alpaca was not infected, and said the original test results were “not reliable”.

Stud alpaca Geronimo (Helen Macdonald/PA)
Stud alpaca Geronimo (Helen Macdonald/PA)

But after she lost her original High Court bid in 2019, a district judge signed an “execution warrant” in May 2021 which would allow the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to seize Geronimo.

On Thursday, Miss Macdonald brought an appeal against the warrant to the High Court, arguing that the district judge had made an error.

Her barrister, Cathryn McGahey QC, said there was “good reason to believe that Geronimo does not have bTB” and that the alpaca had shown “not a whisker of symptoms” since the two positive tests in 2017.

She told the High Court that as bTB progressed swiftly and Geronimo had not shown symptoms, he should have another test.

“Our position is two years down the line it is right for the court to take another look,” Ms McGahey said.

The disease can take years to progress and it is on that basis that we maintain our suspicion that Geronimo has bTB
Ned Westaway, APHA

The barrister said the results of the positive tests were skewed after he had several quicker but less accurate skin tests for bTB, which the lawyer compared to the “bovine equivalent of a lateral flow test”.

Animals such as alpacas, camels and llamas cannot be tested for bTB without Defra’s permission – which the department would not give to Miss Macdonald.

Ned Westaway, for APHA which is part of Defra, said that it was unusual to have two tests and that a third test would be “futile” and open “floodgates” for other owners.

“The disease can take years to progress and it is on that basis that we maintain our suspicion that Geronimo has bTB,” Mr Westaway said.

In his judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Griffiths rejected the appeal and said the judge who signed the warrant was correct.

Mr Justice Griffiths agreed to delay the start of the second execution warrant until August 5 (Helen Macdonald/PA)
Mr Justice Griffiths agreed to delay the start of the second execution warrant until August 5 (Helen Macdonald/PA)

He said: “The judge recognised how sad it is for Miss Macdonald that her alpaca, having being diagnosed with the bacteria … will now be taken from her and put down.

“He said he had a great degree of sympathy for her … perhaps no-one would not feel sorry for Miss Macdonald and Geronimo.

“This is not a case in which the wishes and feelings of Miss Macdonald can be paramount.”

The judge stressed the needed to protect against the “serious consequences” of bTB.

Mr Justice Griffiths agreed to delay the start of the second execution warrant until August 5 to allow Miss Macdonald to have Geronimo euthanised.

After the hearing, a Defra spokesperson said: “We are sympathetic to Ms Macdonald’s situation – just as we are with everyone with animals affected by this terrible disease.

“It is for this reason that the testing results and options for Geronimo have been very carefully considered by Defra, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and its veterinary experts, as well as passing several stages of thorough legal scrutiny.

“Bovine TB causes devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities and that is why we need to do everything we can to reduce the risk of the disease spreading.”


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