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1,000 police drafted to animal port

About 1,000 police officers were standing by last night at a West Sussex harbour that has been the scene of two nights of violence amid protests over live animal shipments to Europe.

Sussex officers were joined by police from London, Hampshire and Kent at Shoreham Harbour in an attempt to prevent further disturbances. On the previous two nights, lorries loaded with sheep and calves had been forced to turn away by hundreds of protesters opposed to live animal exports. They had leapt on to lorries, smashing lights and hurling stones through windscreens.

The port of Shoreham's decision to export animals for slaughter on the continent has united a community in opposition. Few extremists are involved in the campaign, most taking part being local residents previously uninvolved with protests.

Hundreds of citizens, including many children and old people, were protesting during the main clashes with hauliers on Monday and Tuesday. Police were largely powerless when faced with strong, but largely non-violent, opposition.

Adur District Council and Hove Borough Council, which have a minority interest in the trust port, are among the opponents. In November they passed unanimous resolutions "to do all in their power to prevent the trade".

Garth Staden, chief executive of Adur council, said for moral reasons animals should be slaughtered as close to the farm as possible. In addition, he said, "the trade will have an adverse effect on other businesses in the area. The port is in decline andthis trade will drive other business away".

Jim Glover, chairman of the Port Agents' Association, also against the exports, agreed. "The port authority should be listening to public opinion. Many, many ports around the country have rejected the trade and yet Shoreham is prepared to take on the business. It's going to be a five-minute wonder because the trade will be stopped. It will be stopped through a change in legislation or through vociferous protests."

West Sussex is a hot-bed of animal rights groups - the reason why several traders wishing to start the business through Shoreham reportedly backed-off. The Animal Liberation Front and Justice Department, two extremist groups, have a strong local base, which could be used to paralyse the port.

But the vast majority of animal rights' groups oppose the trade peacefully. Compassion in World Farming, a main group in the Sussex action, opposes violent protest. Phillip Lymbery, group national spokesman, was urging demonstrators to stop damaging lorries during Tuesday's clashes with hauliers.

But Philip Lacey, port general manager, welcomes the trade. He said: "Our role is simply to provide a transport facility - just like local authorities who provide and maintain roads. We have a legal responsibility to keep our facilities open for lawful use.

"If the demonstrators don't like the handling regulations or the laws covering livestock transport, they should clearly take their campaign to the politicians who govern these matters. It's useless and inappropriate to lobby here."

But Mark Glover, spokesman for Respect for Animals, a national pressure group, said the port authority was simply using "excuses" to kick-start the trade.

"The 1847 Harbours, Docks and Piers Act [allegedly compelling the port to accept any lawful cargo] is nothing but an excuse. If they wanted to stop it they could - Shoreham is becoming a gateway to hell."

Mr Lacey said groups like Respect for Animals could only provide loopholes in the legislation, which he likened to breaking the law. The trade should continue, he said, until the law is changed.