Badger cull: 'Blinkered' police failed to listen to protesters' claims, says review

More than 300 'information markers' were placed on vehicles involved in protest and recorded on the Police National Computer

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The Independent Online

Somerset police sent to deal with badger cull protesters took a "blinkered approach" to the evidence and failed to listen to the accounts of demonstrators, according to an internal police review seen by The Independent.

In one incident, officers responding to a protester's allegation that he was assaulted by two marksmen looking for a shot badger treated him "more as a suspect for theft of a badger rather than a victim of assault", the report found. It also reveals that the initial police search of his car for the badger was so thorough that it took in the glove compartment, a flask and even a packet of crisps. The protester had been demonstrating his opposition by monitoring the cull.

The review of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary's handling of the trial badger cull last Autumn centred on four incidents. It noted eight areas which need "further work", including some generic issues such as insufficient detail being entered on police logs and the crime recording database, known as Guardian.

The report also noted that more than 300 "information markers" were placed on vehicles involved in the protest and recorded on the intelligence database, the Police National Computer. It appears to confirm suspicions that police had a representative from the pro-cull National Farmers Union in its control room.

The force defends this close relationship by alluding to a conversation between the report author and Superintendent Kevin Instance, who was responsible for running the operation. "Superintendent Instance stated that having a representative from the NFU within the control room was an operation decision to enable us to deliver strategy," the report said.

"Rather than us exerting any command and control over the contractors, which clearly would be outside of our remit, we kept the people that did have command and control over those people close at hand. This approach to policing events is well tested and is very much our normal practice."

But it is the officers' responses to specific incidents relating to the cull that are likely to be most contentious. "We recognise that officers responding to the call from [the monitor] were blinkered in their approach and not all angles of the incident were investigated at the time," the review said of the case involving the alleged crisp-packet search, adding that the officers in question were currently the subject of a police disciplinary process.

The monitor called the police after an altercation in which he claimed that one of the marksmen pulled the torch and hat off his head, the report said. The marksmen countered by claiming that he had hit them with his torch and that they believed he had stolen the dead badger. The police investigated the complaints but took them no further due to lack of independent evidence and "not passing the threshold test", the report found.

However, the conduct of the police officers fell short, the report concluded, saying that investigation at the scene "appears poor and confusing", that the quality of the statements taken was "poor" and that the search of his car "surpassed what was reasonable under the circumstances".

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset Constabulary declined to comment on individual incidents, but added: "We have received a complaint which is being fully investigated by our Professional Standards Department. As this investigation is still ongoing, it wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment any further at this stage."

The police spokesman said that, more generally: "The badger cull was run by Natural England under licence from Defra [Environment Department] and our primary role was to respond to reports of criminality or public disorder and keep the public safe. We always recognise people's right to protest and worked very hard to facilitate safe and lawful protests,", adding that the NFU representative was in the control room purely for safety purposes.

The Somerset badger cull trial is one of two pilots held last Autumn to determine the safety, humanness and effectiveness of culling. The other took place in Gloucestershire. This report deals only with the police conduct in Somerset.

The government is still analysing the results of the trials before deciding whether to extend it across the country. The aim of the cull is to curb tuberculosis by reducing the number of badgers which help spread the disease. However, scientific opinion is divided on whether the process works, with many arguing that culling actually aids the spread of the disease as fleeing badgers take it to new areas.