Hundreds of farmers clash with police at ferry port

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The Independent Online
Nineteen police officers were injured in a confrontation early yesterday with hundreds of angry farmers at the Welsh ferry port of Holyhead.

Police used CS gas and batons when concerted attempts were made to prevent Irish lorries leaving the port after the overnight ferry had docked.

Officers from Cheshire were called to reinforce 200 North Wales police officers. Fists and boots flew in the confrontation. The injured police included one of the reinforcements from England. Another officer was taken to hospital in Bangor where he was kept in with chest and rib injuries.

Some of the trouble may attributable to the militant section of the Welsh farming community, called "the Farmers' Army". It operates an efficient "telephone tree" which enables large numbers of supporters to be mobilised at short notice.

Brinley Williams, one of the farmers at Holyhead, described the atmosphere at the port as "very hot". He added: "The action came to a good conclusion. The objective was to hold the port until 5am." Farmers suffering catastrophic falls in livestock prices were also faced with imports of cheap meat, Mr Williams said. "They are determined to keep up the pressure."

The scenes at Holyhead, reminiscent of industrial disputes of a decade and more ago, drew wide condemnation. Wyn Griffiths, Welsh Office Minister responsible for agriculture, said: "I deplore what happened most strongly. The farmers must step back and make their case peacefully." It was shocking that police had been injured while fulfilling their task of maintaining public order.

Bob Harry, President of the Farmers' Union of Wales, expressed disappointment. "It was meant to be a peaceful protest but it turned to violence," he said. "It doesn't help when violence flares." He urged members of the union to stay away from the port and said that the police had over-reacted.

For the National Farmers' Union, Keith Jones, said: "We deplore the events at Holyhead. It was a very sad night for British farming."

A demonstration at Fishguard, 100 miles south of Holyhead, though large and noisy, passed off peacefully. A strong force of police faced more than 300 farmers who dispersed in the early hours after lorries disembarking from the ferry from Rosslare left the Cardigan Bay port unhindered.

The events at Holyhead presage a change in the tactics employed in the dispute. Formerly, a tacit agreement between police, port authorities and pickets enabled farmers to inspect the contents of lorries arriving from Ireland and in many cases check the paperwork.