Livestock firm fights cutback in port policing

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The Independent Online
A livestock shipping company operating through Shoreham began a High Court challenge yesterday to Sussex Police Authority's decision to restrict the level of policing at the port.

The West Sussex town was the scene of the bitterest conflicts in the fight to halt live animal exports to the Continent. At the height of the protests in January, more than 1,100 officers were deployed to escort livestock lorries into the port.

After three months of demonstrations, at a cost to the police of pounds 3.5m, Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex, restricted the level of policing to save money.

In April Mr Whitehouse told International Traders Ferry Ltd that policing would only be provided for two days per week or four days per fortnight. The company claims that the decision was illegal.

Mr Whitehouse said providing the hundreds of officers needed daily would stretch resources to breaking point at the expense of crime prevention and emergency cover.

Peter Roth, acting for ITF, said the company was "very shocked" by the decision, which had made livestock shipments through the port "wholly uneconomic". The fixed daily costs of the operation were about pounds 7,000 and the revenue from an average load was about pounds 13,000. He said the company could not survive with less than four sailings per week.

Mr Roth claimed that the force had acted unreasonably by not requesting assistance from other forces, and had gone against a recent High Court ruling that authorities should not allow demonstrations to interfere with a lawful trade.

He claimed that animal rights protesters were being allowed to defy the law while law-abiding lorry drivers were sometimes threatened with arrest unless they turned back from the port.

Mr Roth said that the company could not continue without a police presence and the "unjustified" policing restrictions were contrary to both European and domestic law.

Alan Fowler, from Eastergate near Bognor Regis, who supports the chief constable's decision, asked the court to hear his argument, as he was a council tax payer and thus "a person directly affected".

He told Lord Justice Balcombe and Mr Justice Popplewell in a letter that "a disproportionate amount" of police resources had been devoted to the interests of ITF to the detriment of the local population. The chief constable's ability to discharge his duty "to provide an effective police service" for the area was under threat, he said.

The hearing continues today.