The heart of a small town is torn apart by protest

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The Independent Online
Brightlingsea's image of recent weeks is that of a town up in arms, with middle-class grannies hurling obscenities at lines of police as they try to ensure the lawful export of live animals.

But in this normally peaceful community of 7,000 people there are many who strongly disagree that Brightlingsea should host this battle of wills. Many support the protesters' sentiments, but are implacably opposed to the tactics.

The result is that Brightlingsea has been torn apart, emotions polarised to the point where families are split and it is dangerous to express a view about the subject in the pub.

Rod Andrews, a freelance writer in the town, told how a farmer friend, coincidentally opposed to live exports, had voiced opposition to the protests while having a drink and was almost assaulted.

"The problem is that the protesters seem to think they're above criticism," said Mr Andrews, who was among the demonstrators in the early days. "We have a right to have a divergent opinion but they want to deny us that right. The protesters are completely intolerant of any other view."

Trade has suffered to the extent that 40 shopkeepers took out a £1,000 full-page advertisement in a local newspaper to present an alternative view. Many are reluctant to speak openly for fear that it will cost them more lost trade.

One shop-owner told how he had been threatened that if he did not display a protesters' poster in his window, those supporting the ban would no longer shop there.

Alan Hayes, whose delicatessen took 10 per cent less than normal over Easter, was prepared to speak but only to say: "The fact of the matter is we have to keep a low profile."

But the divide runs much deeper than the odd cross word. Friends of Michael Yardley, an author and experimental psychologist, have received intimidating anonymous telephone calls because of their opposition to the protests.

Similarly, erstwhile friends of Ian MacGregor, a fish dealer, no longer wish to be seen with him or talk to him. "The fact is I think many of them will never speak to me ever again, he said.

Protesters concede that the town has been divided, but Carole Appleby, a former organiser of Brightlingsea Against Live Exports, maintains that the trade must be stopped, almost at any cost. "I'm sorry about what is happening in the town, we do not want to create a divide. But we have to stand up for what we believe in."

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