The Government has paid £20,000 to restaurateurs in Newcastle's Chinatown after their businesses were damaged by accusations that they started the foot-and-mouth epidemic.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
The payment follows allegations that Ministry of Agriculture officials were behind the rumours, which were repeated in national newspapers.
Stories claimed waste from illegally imported meat had been collected from the Stowell Street restaurants and taken to a farm at Heddon-on-the Wall, 10 miles away in Northumberland, where the outbreak originated.
Shortly after the rumours surfaced, Environment Minister Michael Meacher visited Stowell Street to listen to the complaints of restaurant owners who claimed business had fallen by 40%.
While not accepting responsibility, Meacher sympathised with their plight.
Now the city's Chinese Association has been awarded the grant, paid as part of the Government's £50m foot-and-mouth compensation scheme.
The £20,000 will pay for a public relations company and advertising campaign aimed at attracting visitors to Chinatown, which contains about 20 restaurants, as well as Chinese stores.
Restaurant owner and chairman of the North East Chinese Association Barry Yu said: "It's taken more than 20 years to build up Chinatown's reputation, which was very good.
"This all destroyed it, although hopefully the compensation will make things better, at least in the short-term."
Chinatown Traders Association spokesman Clint Woo said: "We deserve the compensation for the damage that was caused to our businesses by these unfounded rumours which also caused threats and racist comments.
"Things have improved in the last few weeks. But there is still prejudice and people have got out of the habit of coming here. We don't know how long it will take for business to return to what it was."
Barry Speker, a Newcastle solicitor representing the restaurant owners, said: "The
rumours that were circulating very widely about Chinatown were very damaging
and the Government wanted to do something to put it right.
"We hope this publicity campaign will be able to attract people back to Stowell Street."
The campaign will include a week-long Moon Festival, with dragon dances and other crowd-pulling attractions.
by Nigel Green