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The owner of Geronimo, the alpaca who was culled because officials believed he had bovine tuberculosis, has launched a fierce attack on the UK government after postmortem tests suggested he might have been clear of the disease after all.

Helen Macdonald said she felt betrayed and continued to grieve deeply for Geronimo’s ‘“senseless” loss. “It’s a rollercoaster. No two minutes are the same. I feel grief, traumatic grief.”

Geronimo was killed in August after years of court battles, protests and celebrity interventions, with the government insisting he had to die because he had twice tested positive for the disease.

Macdonald, a veterinary nurse, argued that the testing process was flawed, and she and her supporters have been waiting for the results of postmortem examinations. On Friday the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) conceded it had not been possible to prove from the postmortem tests that Geronimo did have TB.

Speaking at her farm in Gloucestershire, Macdonald became tearful as she recalled how Geronimo was taken away by government vets, supported by police officers, despite the efforts of supporters known as “alpaca angels” to guard the animal.

“He was tortured. Vets dragged him screaming to a horse box. If that was a person, they’d be up before the courts. You can’t use the word murder because he wasn’t human, but he was a sentient being.”

Macdonald, who clutched a mug reading “Beware, crazy alpaca lady” as she spoke, said she could not bear to go into what had been Geronimo’s pen, saying it felt like a crime scene. “It brings back too many memories,” she said.

“I’m going to carry on fighting for the truth. George Eustice [the environment secretary] has spent a ridiculous amount of taxpayers’ money trying to prove this one alpaca had bovine TB, when we knew all along that he didn’t, and ultimately, he personally ordered for Geronimo to be condemned to an unjust death. It is incredibly sad and personally devastating that the truth only emerges after the senseless death of Geronimo.”

Defra claimed that an initial postmortem examination revealed the presence of what it believed were TB-like lesions – although Macdonald disputes this is what they were. The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has been trying to culture bacteria from these lesions but, it has now emerged, has been unable to do this. Defra argued this did not mean Geronimo was free of disease because he had twice tested positive while alive.

The chief veterinary officer for the UK, Christine Middlemiss, said: “This animal tested positive for bovine tuberculosis on two separate occasions using highly specific tests. Due to the complexity of the disease, further testing has not enabled us to use whole-genome sequencing to try to understand how the animal became infected in the first place.”

Macdonald’s supporters say the APHA was not able to culture bacteria from the tissue samples because there was no bacteria to culture.

Iain McGill, a veterinary scientist who has advised Macdonald, said it was a “very sad day.” He said he believed the failure to culture bacteria showed it was “extremely unlikely” that Geronimo had TB.

Defra said bovine tuberculosis was one of the most significant animal health challenges that England faced, costing taxpayers more than £100m each year. In 2020 alone, more than 27,000 cattle had to be slaughtered to curb its spread.