As 100 animal rights and anti-Criminal Justice Act protesters converged on the Waldegrave family estate at Chewton Mendip, near Bath, the minister, conveniently not at home, instructed police to allow them on to his land so long as the demonstration was peaceful. With the red carpet out and a disappointing turn-out, the billed mass trespass failed on both counts.
After the show of strength from animal rights protesters at Shoreham and Plymouth, the shift from the ports at which calves are transported to Europe to the farms on which they are born was rather shambolic. "At least you get overtime at Shoreham," grumbled one local policeman.
But despite the small turn-out, the protesters divided into at least two camps within minutes of reaching the 1,000-acre Rookery Farm. In an open battle for the TV cameras, a woman in a wheelchair screamed that she was demonstrating for the sheep as wellas the calves, while a man from the Socialist Workers Party, concerned with the deficiencies of wider Government policy, hijacked attention by grabbing a megaphone and inciting a few followers to "invade" Waldegrave's garden.
A few protesters, watched by police officers, banged on the farmhouse windows and doors. Mr Waldegrave was never likely to answer - the house belonged to his farm manager. His rather grander home is in another part of the estate.
The demonstration had little local support. Most of the villagers are dairy farmers and the Waldegraves, owners of thousands of acres of local land, are the biggest cheese in these parts. One local farmer's wife explained that many of her neighbours rentland from the Waldegraves.
"Feudal or what?" complained one young protester as pre-demonstration tactics were discussed in the Chewton Mendip's only pub, the Waldegrave Arms.
Seasoned animal rights protesters were angered by the "SWP hijack" and criticised the naivete of many supporting the current campaign against the veal trade. Cuddly calves had, they said, pulled at the public's heart strings, but most people were still ignorant about the suffering of other species and "factory farming".
Most were unaware of the link between the current campaign and milk consumption and of the choices the problem presented for vegetarians.
"Some protesters just don't understand farming," said Ceri, 19, a demonstrator from north Somerset. "Everyone is upset by the pictures of the calves, but they don't understand we have to come up with an alternative. We either have to push the pink veal trade in Britain or slaughter surplus calves at birth. Some extremists just don't think it all through."
But others focused on Mr Waldegrave's "hypocrisy".
"He cannot urge us to try to do something about calf exportation for veal when he is plying the trade himself," said Jo Pedler, 49, from Polton, Somerset.
Scotland Yard said yesterday that letters containing razor blades addressed to Mr Waldegrave were being analysed by forensic experts. They were delivered to the minister's office in London and his constituency office in Bristol. Yesterday's demonstratorsdistanced themselves from the letters.
Meanwhile, the head of the British meat industry has urged animal rights protesters to "form alliances" with his organisation - which was also demanding an end to the controversial veal crates. Campaigners should "come away from the emotional approach", said Colin McClean, of the Meat and Livestock Commission, on BBC Radio 4 News yesterday.Reuse content