The owner of Huntleys Country Stores in Samlesbury, near Preston, pleaded guilty yesterday at Preston Crown Court to significant contraventions to health and safety legislation after 30 individuals are suspected of contracting E.coli 0157 after visiting his farm shop in April 2014. Of those 30, 15 were confirmed cases
Twenty-two of those who became ill are children and all became infected after visiting a lamb feeding event at Huntley’s over Easter last year.
Mr Harry Wilson, 68, Managing Director of Huntleys Country Stores, was fined £60,000 and ordered to pay £60,000 costs to South Ribble Borough Council.
The mother of one victim, who was struck down with kidney failure after bottle-feeding a lamb at the event, said the incident has ‘left a permanent scar on the entire family which we will never forget”.
Juliette Martin took her two children, Annabelle, 7 and Lewis, 2, to the lambing live event with husband Ian on 15th April, 2014.
However, 10 days after the event, Annabelle became unwell and after another four days she was vomiting violently and experiencing diarrhoea.
What was meant to be a fun and educational family day out resulted in Annabelle needing three operations, three blood transfusions and 11 days of dialysis.
Mrs Martin says: "The impact on the family has been extremely traumatic. Annabelle has developed a phobia of needles and becomes very anxious before any hospital appointments. Since the incident she has lost all interest in animals for fear of becoming ill again. We do not know what she will have to face in puberty and key milestones in her life such as pregnancy and old age."
Mrs Martin said: “If we ever thought that by feeding lambs that our daughter would be hospitalised and fighting for her life we would never have visited Huntley's".
E Coli 0157 is a particularly nasty bug which is passed to humans through animal faeces. The bacteria needs to be ingested and exposure to just 10 organisms is enough to make someone ill. Once the devastating bacteria get into a person's system, there is no treatment. Antibiotics can even make it worse. E Coli 0157 attacks the kidneys and can lead to renal failure - Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). At its worse, HUS can cause brain damage and even death. Having contracted E-coli at Huntley's, five of the children developed HUS and three required kidney dialysis.
The most common protection at farm events like these is to ask anyone handling animals to wash their hands.
Jill Greenfield, a partner at Fieldfisher law firm, who is acting for a number of the families whose children became ill at the farm shop says that these types of precautions do not go nearly far enough.
"For those who think hand washing is enough, please think carefully about this. Children are at barrier height. Their shoes and clothes pick up everything around them. They drop their toys and put them and their fingers into their mouths without thinking. Hand washing is clearly sensible advice, but it is not the solution."
Ms Greenfield, who herself has an 8-year old son, is critical of the government lack of action in protecting children who visit these type of open farm and farm events all around the country.
"We should have learnt our lesson from the Godstone Farm outbreak in 2009, which led to 93 people being affected by E Coli 0157. Many were hospitalised, with the children needing to go onto dialysis." Ms Greenfield explained.
"The Government had the chance to listen to the Griffin Inquiry after the Godstone outbreak. It concluded that while the risk to children was small, it was extremely serious and new guidance should be issued. One of the key recommendations of this guidance was the introductions of a Regulatory Framework that would ensure that Farm safety was properly assessed and called for the introduction of national accreditation scheme for Open Farms. These recommendations were not followed.
"If they had been, the tragedy of Huntley's may never have happened.
One young girl we are representing now lives knowing she carries a life-long risk of renal failure. A fun day out at the farm is not meant to end like this. "
Ms Greenfield says she hopes the prosecution will highlight the dangers and help enforce stricter safety measures to protect families.
Ms Greenfield first became involved in E-coli cases in 1997 when 4-year-old Tom Dowling visited Bowman's Open Farm and was exposed to E Coli 0157. He suffered devastating brain damage as a result and some years later died due to complications associated with his condition.
"This case was traumatic for anyone who came into contact with Tom. It was a tragic case, with terrible consequences and it should not have happened. E Coli 0157 was then a little known bug to many including me. It was more associated with food, having been first spotted in the US in 1982."
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