More than 1,200 people have been arrested during the protests against live animal exports at ports and airports across the country in operations costing more than pounds 7m, according to police figures.
The figures were released to the Independent following the disclosure that the daily protests against the trade through Brightlingsea in Essex have resulted in 583 arrests and have cost the police pounds 2.2m. Two hundred people still confront lorries loaded with sheep daily, tying up 30 to 40 officers. Once a month, when a special demonstration is held with protesters from all over the country, 200 to 300 police may be used to control a crowd of up to 600 demonstrators.
In Shoreham, where the trade is currently suspended, Sussex police estimate that about 200 people have been arrested and the operation to keep the livestock trucks rolling has so far cost pounds 4m. Protests in Dover, the current focus of the trade, have so far cost Kent police about pounds 600,000 and resulted in 180 arrests. Warwickshire police have spent pounds 384,000 and made 180 arrests during their operation to keep Coventry airport open to veal-calf flights to Europe. Phoenix Aviation, which operated the flights, recently went bankrupt and it is not known whether another company will try to resume the flights.
Devon and Cornwall police made 58 arrests and spent an unknown amount of money during their operation throughout the winter to keep Plymouth open to live exports.
The dispute has now settled into a war of attrition focused on Brightlingsea and Dover. Both ports have key advantages for the exporters. The ship operating out of Brightlingsea has onboard feeding and watering facilities, which means the animals can be shipped across Europe virtually non-stop, while Dover is the quickest and therefore the most economical route.
Estimates vary, but during the first half of the year live exports were cut by one-third. But the ease with which animals are shipped through Dover will probably ensure the trade will be back to normal levels for the rest of the year. About 2 million sheep and 500,000 calves are likely to be shipped to Europe in 1995.
The disruption to the trade has, however, forced several operators out of business and made life much harder for the remainder. They are now forced to charter their own ships and provide a constant and high level of security which hits profits.
The high level of arrests alarms civil rights groups but a spokesman for Kent police said the main aim of its operations at Dover was public safety. In four months of protests, there had been no serious injuries, which vindicated their approach.
Civil rights campaigners are also concerned that bail conditions, which frequently ban people from the port area, were undermining the right to protest. The police spokesman said: "If you think somebody is going to repeat the offence, then you can impose bail conditions. It's an option you can take advantage of."