A confrontation between 300 police and 500 protesters at the small port of Brightlingsea involved the police being accused of stamping, punching and kicking demonstrators.
The protesters, 90 per cent of whom were local people, unsuccessfully tried to block the route of four lorries containing the livestock.Police, many with drawn batons, cordoned off much of the road.
The police said their aim was to "keep the highway open for lawful trade and to allow lawful demonstration". However, more than 200 complaints flooded into Essex police about "excessive riot-style violence".
At 8am, the lorries passed into the wharf. Two hours later, most of the livestock were loaded on to the Danish vessel, Caroline. Just before 1pm, the ship left the port. Protesters took to the sea in inflatables, but failed to halt the ship's progress.
Essex's assistant chief constable, Geoffrey Markham, said he was "distressed'' to hear of the complaints of violence. He denied that special riot squad police had been deployed. "We [the police] are likely to finish up the casualty in this," he said.
Essex police, in an official statement, said their "quick and clean" operation had been mounted after the main exporter, Roger Mills, had warned that with or without police presence he aimed to bring his lorries into Brightlingsea yesterday.
It was the exporter's third day of trying to get the lorries past the protest. The police tactic on Monday, which appeared to acknowledge the pressure in numbers of the protest, changed yesterday. The first wave of sit-down protesters were quickly removed. Others taking their place were - in the presence of television cameras - stamped on by officers. Punching by officers was "blatant", protesters said.
Alona Meed, a magistrate's wife, described the use of force by police as "appropriate to a soccer riot, not a peaceful protest in a village where two dogs and a man is normally considered a riot''.
Mrs Meed said the police would now find it difficult to return to normal relations with the village. "We are all shocked. No one has seen police violence like this before . . . I saw people being kicked and punched by the police. Babies in buggies that got in their way were simply thrown aside.''
Mr Markham said the police were not talking of "winning or losing" but of emerging with a "reputation reasonably intact''.
Maria Wilby, of Brightlingsea Against Live Export (Bale), said that attempts to blockade the port would continue.
n A convoy of live exports was suspended by police in Plymouth, Devon, last night. Six lorry loads of animals managed to get through despite a 30-strong, sit-down demonstration. Two people were arrested.