Activists' rights `undermined'

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Civil rights campaigners have expressed concern at the number of arrests and stringent bail conditions imposed on animal rights protesters by police in Kent.

Kent Police have arrested 85 people protesting against live animal exports passing through the port of Dover. Some claimed to have been strip-searched, an allegation denied by the police. However, the campaign group Liberty says police bail conditions are now posing a hazard to civil rights.

According to Atiya Lockwood, a spokeswoman for Liberty, officers "could be tempted to arrest people for minor offences, such as breach of the peace" primarily to impose stringent bail conditions.

Animal rights protesters claim that people have been arrested for shouting at drivers carrying livestock to the port or for straying outside a confined zone close to the port entrance that police have allocated for the demonstrators. Many arrests were for minor offences, but they say police have been able to impose strict conditions on their bail under powers in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act.

"These new bail powers taken together with the other public order provisions are seriously undermining the right to peaceful protest," Ms Lockwood said.

Kent Police deny that the bail conditions are being imposed to stop the protests at the port.

Glenda Johnson, a spokeswoman, said: "What we're trying to do is stop people returning to the same places and committing the same alleged offences. The bail conditions are not automatic. Each case is considered on its own merits."

She said police received eight complaints against their officers' conduct, four of which were resolved informally and another withdrawn. They also received six letters of appreciation.