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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Watching the watchers

I attended an excellent public meeting at Rhosygilwen in Rhoshill, just south of Cardigan last night, organised by Pembrokeshire against the cull. There were well over 200 people there, many of whom are landowners and farmers concerned at the impact this cull will have on their livelihoods and its potential to actually spread the incidence of bTB amongst badgers and cattle.

There were some excellent presentations on the English trials on vaccination together with a lot of information as to the future development of these vaccines and their efficacy. What was clear is that vaccinating badgers is more effective than culling in the long term in reducing bTB and no more costly. Also, because it has widespread acceptance amongst landowners, it will not require the increasingly bizarre and unacceptable police tactics to put it into place that are being used by the Welsh Government at present.

I spoke on the civil liberties aspect of this cull and in particular the rather concerning tactics that are being used in Pembrokeshire. These include surveillance of those opposing the cull, the taking down of videos from YouTube, removing posters from shop windows, stopping and searching opponents under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the intimidation of elderly and disabled residents through the unannounced appearance of masked contractors escorted by 'suited-up' Police Officers on their land, who refuse to allow the residents the opportunity to establish whether correct procedures are being followed by arresting them for obstruction.

Rather bizarrely the Police turned up at last night's meeting as well and mingled with residents before being asked to leave. Whilst they were in the hall it transpired that they had parked their vehicle so that it faced the entrance to the car park with a camera facing outwards. When I asked the officers they said that the camera was switched off but they were not very convincing.

This may seem innocent if it were not for the increasing number of reports from residents that what appears to be happening is in fact what is happening. This, from an e-mail I received last night, is one example:

After attending a PAC meeting at the Malgwyn Hotel in Llechryd earlier in the year where the vehicle was parked somewhat similarly, although not as prominently, and I thought nothing of it at the time, it was only a few days before I was stopped in my vehicle for a supposed stop-check. At the time I did think it strange that I was stopped after being followed for about a mile, whilst the driver immediately in front of me was driving like somebody drunk, so much so that when the police car flashed me to stop, my first thought was to get out of the way so he could pursue the idiot driver in front of me. I am not the only person having attended that meeting who was stopped for stop-checks very soon after either, there have been a few of us…..

But I digress…..

There is a feeling amongst us, especially those of us who have had any sort of prominence within PAC are not only being followed at times by the police, but that emails are being read, and phone calls listened in to.

Now it could well be that we are becoming a little paranoid, and that in turn could be interpreted as understandable after the recent history of police/wag actions, and arrests, but when the local police officers, put in place specially because of the cull, and who are supposed to be impartial and support the local community, park their vehicle in such a way that it leaves a feeling that they are recording the movement of members of the public attending a perfectly civil, non-threatening and peaceful meeting such as last nights, something needs to be done.

It is clear that there has been a complete breakdown of trust between many residents and the police over these sorts of tactics. something I find unsurprising. The question is whether Welsh Government Ministers endorse this sort of behaviour or not? Do they know it is going on and will they stop it now that they have been told?
I wish the police would be more open about their reasons for surveillance. There is a case for the police to check up on participants in demonstrations. Like it or not, there are people who latch on to popular campaigns more for the opportunity to cause trouble - often with violence - to the authorities than for any attachment to the cause.

However, if heddlu are merely there to intimidate, then they have inexcusably crossed a political line.
As someone who was stopped by the police in May 1999 just after handing in his papers to stand for County Councillor, I can fully appreciate that these strong arm neo-nazi tactics by the police are taking place.

What the police seem to forget that the public do have a voice and following a few incidence where the police's judgement can be called into question, I do make a point of enlightening the general public of these incidences. These include me being stopped for failing to make a left signal, my bro-in-law being arrested for getting beaten up by two blokes, etc, etc!
These police tactics are the same tactics used in the miners strike in 1984/5. I was an active trade unionist campaigning for their cause, speaking at support meetings. etc. The police followed me around, parked cars outside my house & even turned up at my workplace to interview me. It came as no surprise to me when i found out that they'd also tapped my phone. We can expect more of these tactics with this government.
That is roughly what I told the public meeting Paul though I would suggest that the tactics do not relate to the political colour of the government. This cull is after all being implemented by a Labour Plaid Cymru Government.
it was a full meeting with a wide variety of folk attending! thank you for your contribution. I am suddenly reminded of the early 80's when my parents had "ynni nwcliar dim diolch" & CND stickers in theri car: my Ma got fed up of being tailed then eventually stopped. they were members of the then liberal partyy at the time I think, I did run a youth cnd group.
yes the police have to be vigilant, but if we feel we can't go to them, they are are watching us, it is not a good situation. I wasn't surprised to see the car at the meeting last night, but was surprised by it's prominence.
I don't know how likely it is that we will get what I would call hard line animal rights activists coming to the area from outside.I know that some farmers are afraid that we will - they are also afraid to speak out against the cull in case they get penalised by WAG.
It is very pleasing indeed to see a moderate with so much influence taking an interest in what's going on. I do believe the cull is scientifically flawed, I do believe it is unneccessarily cruel, I do believe it will cause lasting damage to the environment.

But, more than that and just as importantly, I am certain it is being used for the opportunity it presents to muscle-in on out lives.

Must also agree strongly with and re-emphasise Flo's point about the intimidation of farmers, inappropriately strongarm in itself but also a notionally separate but ultimately connected invasion of what we are allowed to think.

Well said - and thank you, sir.
Why didn't WAG write to everyone who would be affected by the cull during the consultation? Then the level of support could have been gauged effectively and the concerns of those opposed addressed seriously beforehand and taken into account during planning of the TB eradication programme. Instead, WAG chose to take an authoritarian approach with compliance enforced at public expense, while Elin Jones and Christianne Glossop have consistently refused invitations to speak at public meetings to justify their policy to those affected on the ground.

My impression of the PAC meetings is that those attending and speaking are conscientious, considerate, responsible, intelligent, articulate and well-informed assets to the local community, who want to find a constructive and positive way forward. PAC is not a 'tiny minority', the representatives speak for many local people, some of whom are just as concerned at the possibility of reprisals from pro-cull 'extremists' as the contractors and some farmers seem to fear from 'animal rights extremists', and with proven justification, bearing in mind the aggressive acts that have been perpetrated against known protestors, including the Wildlife Trust, who had a snared badger carcass dumped in their entrance.

Thank you Peter for speaking at the meeting and taking our concerns seriously. Your voice in the Senedd is much appreciated.
it was a group of middle class, gentle, liberally minded and animal concerned people coming together, the last people to cause trouble
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