A police force has offered £40,000 in compensation to animal rights campaigners, including supporters of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), after they were prevented from joining a protest against livestock exports.
The group of London-based protesters, representing several animal rights groups, accused Kent police of heavy-handed tactics after their coach was stopped as it entered Dover in July 2006 en route to a demonstration against the shipping of sheep and cattle to the Continent.
The campaigners, who included a disabled boy and several elderly people, claimed they were threatened with arrest after leaving the vehicle to plead their case with police. They were photographed before being escorted back to London by two police cars and two motorcycles.
Now lawyers for Kent police have offered each of the 32 protesters £1,250 in an out-of-court settlement following a claim brought against the force alleging that the group was unlawfully denied the right to protest. The case was brought by the law firm Irwin Mitchell, which has brought several previous prominent human rights cases, including the provision of the breast cancer drug Herceptin to NHS patients.
The animal rights proceedings are the latest in a catalogue of legal complaints about the policing of demonstrations, including the May Day protests in central London and the decision to prosecute Maya Evans, a vegan cook who was arrested in 2005 for reading out a list of Britain's dead from the Iraq war underneath the Cenotaph.
One of the animal rights campaigners, Adrian Appley, 65, from Bromley in Kent, who contributes financially to the work of the ALF, said: "The way in which we were treated was disgraceful. The police pulled us over by claiming that coach was not roadworthy but it rapidly became clear that they did not want to let us reach the protest.
"At first we were told that we could demonstrate for half an hour. But 10 minutes later we were all told to get back on the coach and anyone refusing to do so would be arrested. The police started filming everyone on board the coach and when one of our group tried to get off he was forcibly prevented from doing so.
"We were then escorted all the way back up the motorway to London and told that we could not turn off the motorway at any point for water or toilet breaks on one of the hottest days of the year. It was a ridiculous situation – most of us were middle-aged or elderly and we had all come to exercise our democratic right to stage a peaceful protest."
Mr Appley said he and several other members of the group were supporters but not active members of the ALF, the extremist anti-vivisection group which advocates the infliction of "economic damage on those who profit from the misery and exploitation of animals". The organisation officially condemns violence but breakaway members have been associated with a succession of high-profile attacks since the early 1980s.
A spokeswoman for Kent police confirmed it was holding talks about an out-of-court settlement. She said: "Negotiations are still ongoing and we are unable to say anything more until everything has been settled."