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English Badger, British Wildlife Centre, Newchapel, Surrey. Photo: Peter Trimming via Flickr.com.
English Badger, British Wildlife Centre, Newchapel, Surrey. Photo: Peter Trimming via Flickr.com.
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Badger culls - who is standing up for public safety?

Lesley Docksey

14th May 2014

Senior Gloucestershire police were questioned this week about the policing of the 2013 pilot cull, writes Lesley Docksey. But the Police Commissioner never asked about the most serious problems - police bias and ignorance of the law, and culler criminality.

Intimidation of local people - presumably those farmers engaged in the culling - was stressed. But intimidation and assaults on protesters by cullers and their supporters was not mentioned.

In looking at whether the Somerset and Gloucester badger culls should continue this year, most of the discussion, in Parliament and the media, has focussed on the ineffectiveness and inhumaneness of the culling, as judged by the Independent Expert Panel.

The safety issue was deemed just about adequate, and then dropped out of sight.

Yet there were clues in the report that all was not well.  As set out in The Ecologist, the cullers were not complying with any of the rules and laws they were meant to follow.

The data they were supplying were unreliable and incomplete. And the report quoted the police as saying that there were some "near misses".

Carte blanche for culler law breaking

Initially the anti-cull activists were targeted with some very heavy-handed and biased policing. But the cullers - who were aggressively intimidating the activists, committing firearms offences, trespassing on property where they had no permission to cull and shooting alone when they should have been accompanied by a 'safety observer' - seemed untouchable.

And behind the scenes there was a constantly changing list of gunmen. New names regularly replaced those whose gun licences had been revoked - a sure sign that irresponsible and criminal behaviour was taking place among the cullers. Yet the public knew little of this.

It was only the dedication of the 'wounded badger patrols' in recording criminal behaviour and reporting it to the police that finally made the whole issue of public safety visible. And within days Gloucestershire's PCC Martin Surl was quizzing his Force on their approach to Gloucester's cull and their policing methods.

A pathetic and one-sided exercise

The whole session was streamed live via a webcast to the public and must have been watched by both badger groups and the champions of badger culling, the NFU. Did we learn anything new, apart that is, from this being a good PR exercise for both Surl and the police? No.

The Chief Constable and her officers made it clear more than once that they were "independent, impartial and accountable". From their point of view, the badger cull was "a private event being held on private land".

Their role was to ensure public safety, oversee firearms licences, investigate any crimes and facilitate the democratic right of people to protest. Which, of course, included using 'stop and search' powers 150 times - on protesters.

They spoke a lot about people wearing "face-coverings" and balaclavas. Of course that understandable in cullers (cold nights and all that) but somehow suspect in protesters (well, that's what hunt saboteurs do).

Intimidation of local people - presumably those farmers engaged in the culling - was stressed. But intimidation and assaults on protesters by cullers and their supporters was not mentioned.

They had difficulty with the NFU injunction which people expected the police to enforce, turned out to be a legal no-through-road and was really rather useless.

39-nil: protesters arrested versus cullers

They mentioned the cost of policing the cull, now standing at £2.3 million for the Gloucester Force alone, after an ACPO estimate of £500,000. But Gloucester needn't worry, because the taxpayer will foot the bill.

Much of the increased cost was blamed on the extension of the cull when, they said, policing became intensive 24-hour policing instead of nights only. This was because the cullers then started to use cage-trapping, and protesters were stealing and damaging the traps. Wrong, not to say dishonest, on two counts.

First, Natural England figures show that cage-trapping started in Gloucester on the second day of the cull, not six weeks later! Second, the police had already admitted that the 'stop and search' events were happening early on in the cull because they were looking for stolen traps.

While admitting that cullers' behaviour was not as impeccable as Defra had claimed, they excused any bad examples on either side as "being human". However, when it came to taking action, there were 39 arrests (of protesters) but no mention was made of any culler being arrested.

A profound silence on culler criminality

Of the 39 arrests:

  • in 19 cases no further action was taken for lack of evidence;
  • in a further 12 the cullers, having accused someone, refused to provide witness statements;
  • the Crown Prosecution Service refused one case;
  • one was going to court when the culler withdrew his statement. This last involved a woman who had tried to remove a gun from the dashboard of the culler's vehicle - but surely keeping a gun in such an unsecured position was also an offence?
  • Three people (including a 14-year-old) were arrested for trespass. The video evidence provided by the cullers showed that they had enticed the three off the footpath they were legally on. This, said the police was "entrapment", so there was no case. But surely, the "entrapment" was in itself an offence?
  • Not a single case has yet come to court, and of course there have been no convictions.

Both the police and Surl were upset by the lack of support and co-operation of the culling companies in pursuing these "crimes", but on any issues to do with the wrongdoing of, not to say crimes committed by the cullers, they were profoundly silent.

Which does not bode well for public safety "should", and I quote the Chief Constable here, "the culls take place this summer".

Our hopes lie in that "should".

 


 

Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for the Ecologist on the badger cull and other environmental subjects.

See her other articles for The Ecologist.

 

 

 

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