Police hold 68 at animal exports protest

Mary Braid reports on the 100th day of continual protest at Brightlings ea
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The Independent Online
Sixty-eight protesters were arrested yesterday after animal rights activists staged a mass sit-down to mark the100th day of campaigning against live exports at Brightlingsea, Essex.

In what has become a ritual at the port, 500 people blocked lorries carrying sheep and cattle destined for Belgium from using the main route to the town's dockside. It took a 250-strong police force 35 minutes to remove the protesters who had travelled from other campaign centres in Coventry, Dover and Shoreham.

Protesters later laid siege to Colchester police station, where those arrested were being charged. One activist was taken to hospital after suffering an asthma attack. After her release police cautioned her for wilful obstruction of the highway.

Francesca da Silva, one of the organisers, said that the protest, attended by more than 500, had been peaceful. "We were sitting in the road singing "All Things Bright and Beautiful", said Ms da Silva, whose sister Maria Wilby was among those arrested. "When the police moved in people remained calm. We just kept on singing."

Ms da Silva said that the campaign was now a war of attrition that the protesters would eventually win. "Essex Police cannot continue to do this for the rest of their lives," she said. "We will win in the end. One third of live exports in this country have already been stopped."

Ms da Silva said that the protest had forced police officers to surround their own station to keep activists from entering. She also claimed that officers stopped passing motorists who peeped their horns in support of those protesting outside the police station.

Essex Police have been widely criticised by local people and activists for "heavy-handiness" during demonstrations. But yesterday Geoffrey Markham, Assistant Chief Constable, thought the demonstration was a success for both sides . He said: "It was reasonably peaceful. The 63 arrested had declared their intention to be arrested before the event." A police spokesman said later that even when a caution was offered protesters insisted on being charged.

Mr Markham said the cost of policing Brightlingsea protests had now reached pounds 2 million. Normally only 50 officers police the daily protests but the anniversary had necessitated the drafting of reinforcements. "When you think there were 250 officers here from stations all over the country, it meant that there were things which should have been today which remain undone," he said.