This is no way to deal with sheep

Chris Kirk deplores the Brightlingsea police action
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The Independent Online
I am always taken aback by normality in times of crisis. The idea that people still buy bread and stop at traffic lights when a country is at war, for example, seems entirely incongruous. I am reminded of a summer visit to the beach as a child, wh en a lifeguard hauled a half-drowned man from the surf and gave him the kiss of life while children played around him, and ate their ice creams before they melted.

I have found it astonishing, then, that life in Brightlingsea has gone on relatively unchanged this week. But then my conception of large-scale catastrophe is formed by the television I have watched since the Fifties rather than by personal experience. As a member of the TV generation, I have formed the view that events touch everyone near them, as all I have seen are those who are touched by the events. Television news tends not to focus too much on the views of people who know someone whose uncle oncesaw a photograph of a murder victim.

I find it quite understandable that reporters have not beaten a path to my door to ask me what I think of the animal exports passing through Brightlingsea. It has not really touched me. It is not that I do not care: on the contrary, I have strong views on live animal exports. However, I have to leave Brightlingsea before eight in the morning to go to work, and I often return after 10 at night. No matter how much I have felt like sitting in the road this week, I have been unable to do so. I have every admiration for those who have, and who have been yanked out of the way by the police for their trouble, and I imagine they would despise me for not having "found a window in my diary" for it.

And yet, being close to something does give a different perspective. The pictures in the local paper of lorries being forced through a determined crowd, flanked by police vehicles, suddenly came alive for me this morning as eight crew buses full of yellow-jacketed policemen, taking an indirect route to the port, roared past me as I unlocked my car.

Claims by defendants, charged with damaging the animal exporter Richard Otley's Range Rover on Monday, that he was being deliberately provocative by taking a route that necessitated passing through the protesters, suddenly seemed valid. If the police could avoid the demonstration this morning, why couldn't he have done so on Monday?

His petulant press claims that he would sue the police and write to his MP (who happens to be John Major) seemed like yuppie bombast, until I was stopped at a road junction on my way out of town by two police motor-cyclists and compelled to wait while the main convoy passed. Four articulated lorries filled with forlorn-looking sheep were each escorted by crew buses, in front and behind, crammed with grim-faced policemen in riot gear.

Not surprisingly, the lorries got through to the port. It would have used less manpower to have given each sheep a personal police bodyguard to carry them up the gangplank one at a time. Essex police had clearly taken a decision to show their colleagues in Sussex how they should have handled Shoreham.

Their display of machismo may have been effective, but it has probably alienated most of Brightlingsea. Watching the police get the better of the bad guys, whether in The Bill or on the terraces at Millwall, has always been agreeable, but this was different. The people dragged roughly out of the road in Brightlingsea this morning were my neighbours, friends from the pub, people I did not know but recognised from school fetes or the pantomime group. Of the protesters in Colne Road this week, who have at times numbered more than 2,000, no more than a handful came from out of town. That so many ordinary people should have been so motivated to make their feelings known will be long remembered.

However many new vegetarians there are in town this week, the Spar supermarket will continue to sell meat, though not, I suspect, veal. In the same way we will still need the police, though whether this community relations disaster can be retrieved remains to be seen.

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