Safety failings halt export of calves by air

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Moves to fly calves to France and Holland for rearing in veal crates were dealt a blow yesterday when the Department of Transport refused to grant a permit for the aircraft exporters had planned to use to transport the animals from Coventry airpor t.

Amid intensifying pressure on William Waldegrave, the Minister of Agriculture, to ban the sale of British calves for veal on the grounds of cruelty, permission to restart the flights was refused because of safety fears, heightened after an animal cargo flight crash on 21 December.

The decision appeared to vindicate advice to vets and animal health officials who fly with the animals to check on their welfare. Their union, the Institution of Professional Managers and Specialists, told its members to boycott the cargoes because the aircraft failed to meet safety regulations.

Animal rights campaigners met Mr Waldegrave in London to press their demand that the trade should be stopped, but were disappointed by the minister's continued intransigence on the basis that his advice suggested that a ban would leave the Government open to legal action by its European partners.

However, the leading figures from the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming who took part in the 40-minute meeting took some comfort from Mr Waldegrave's agreement to seek further legal advice and a pledge to lobby other EU members to ban veal-crate pro d uction in line with Britain.

Peter Stevenson, Compassion's political director, said: "The bottom line, though, is that it was deeply disappointing. Any changes are years away."

At ports and airports around the country, demonstrators maintained pickets in an effort to prevent further calf exports.But at Shoreham, the focus of the largest protests over the past week, the 150 pickets were ultimately frustrated when the ship used for the trade failed to sail from Dieppe as planned.

Last night Sussex police were clearly irritated that they did not learn until late afternoon that the ship had not sailed. A spokesman said: "Today's operation has cost us £155,000, which is money that could usefully have been employed fighting crime in the county."

But the action of the transport department to prevent, for the time being, the restart of the flights of calves from Coventry was viewed as a minor victory.

Civil Aviation Authority inspectors, at the request of the department, on Wednesday examined the Boeing 707 which Phoenix Aviation chartered from ADC Airlines of Nigeria, and refused a permit.

Inspectors found it was not carrying the required number of operating manuals and there were deficiencies in maintenance of brake components.

"The inspection was unfavourable and permission for the aircraft to fly was refused," a Department of Transport spokesman said. But there is nothing to stop the company rectifying the faults."