Category Archives: Action

Informed Protest is a Legal Right

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From December 2011, when it became clear that the government was going to implement its policy of culling badgers, Defra and Natural England (NE) were flooded with requests for information about how the culls would be set up, conducted and monitored, under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI). One such person seeking information was Anna Dale, and her success has implications for everyone trying to protect the environment and wildlife.

Many FoI requests are refused on various grounds – ‘not allowed under the Environmental Information Regulations’ is a favourite, Defra banking on the hope that no one has read the EIR. Sometimes the information released is so blacked out it is meaningless. Or it would not be ‘in the public interest’.

Details, including names of farmers, landowners or culling contractors, cannot be given as it would ‘compromise public safety’, even when the request had specifically stated names were not sought. Or Defra or NE ‘does not hold that information’.

Disheartened, many people do not persevere. Anna Dale did. After a lengthy battle she succeeded in getting the information she wanted, after she and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) went to court.

Anna made an FoI request to Defra and three to NE (between April and October 2013). Answers to the initial letters being unsatisfactory, Anna wrote again, asking for ‘internal reviews’ which also proved unhelpful. Anna pressed on and took her failure to gain the wanted information to the ICO. She had to wait some time before being assigned a case officer, but the ICO supported her and ordered Defra and NE to release the information. They appealed.

September 2015: the case against the Defra and NE appeals is heard by the Information Tribunal.

Defra was more than muddled. First it said it did hold the information but refused to release it. After the review it said it didn’t hold the information. During the hearing it was ordered to search again with the result that it couldn’t supply the information requested because it held some but not all of the information needed for a complete answer. The Judge allowed Defra’s appeal but politely told Defra to get its act together and stop wasting people’s time and money.

Did you understood that? The lesson to take from this to-and-fro exercise is, in your initial FoI request, to ask that the authority undertakes ‘adequate and properly directed searches in your Department and any Executive Agencies.’

The information Anna sought included:

  • The total area of each ring area or buffer zone in square kilometres for West Gloucester and West Somerset (it turned out there were no buffer zones recorded for West Gloucester which, Anna said, was in itself a significant cause for concern when trying to assess the results of culling).
  • The information in the Badger Control Plans of all applicants in the WG and WS Pilot Areas and the reserve pilot cull area for Dorset which had not already been disclosed, except for the applicants’ identities

The Tribunal’s decision provides some very useful reading for those campaigning against the culls. To start with:

The right to environmental information

The whole of the public’s right to environmental information comes under two closely related bodies of laws, the first being the Aarhus Convention which grants citizens the right to environmental information, and enables them to take an informed part in any decisions concerning their environment, and informed protest if they disagree with those decisions.

In 2004 the UK enacted the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), implementing the EC Directive on public access to environmental information. The Directive closely follows Aarhus. The Judge and his Panel made great use of these laws in forming the Decision. For instance, Aarhus says:

“… in the field of the environment, improved access to information and public participation in decision-making enhance the quality and the implementation of decisions, contribute to public awareness of environmental issues, give the public the opportunity to express its concerns and enable public authorities to take due account of such concerns”.

These values condition the interpretation of the EIR, said the Judge, stressing the point that the public has an over-riding right to environmental information and that any refusal to disclose it has to be ‘restrictive’. Thus, a public authority “shall apply a presumption in favour of disclosure”. Note the ‘shall’ – as in ‘must’, not ‘may’. Any grounds for refusal must be ‘specific and clearly defined’.

Under the EIR, information may be refused on these grounds:

  • The authority does not hold the information (as in Defra, which did, didn’t and partially did)
  • Disclosure of the information would adversely affect ‘international relations, defence, national security or public safety; or the protection of the environment to which the information relates’.
  • Public interest can also be cited.

As culling badgers would not affect international relations, defence or national security, NE depended on protection of the environment, public safety and public interest. Thus they argued that culling badgers was ‘protecting the environment’. The Judge said:

“The anti-cull movement believe that vaccinating badgers and other measures such as restricting cattle movements are the way to protect the environment including cattle. These views, we are informed, are supported by many scientists.”

Public Safety

There was much discussion about releasing the names of landholders (even though Anna was not seeking names), which NE said was a matter of public safety. NFU witnesses and NE argued that releasing such information would result in intimidation from ‘activists’. One witness related how he had personally been targeted, but much of the evidence was anecdotal and ‘speculative’.

The ICO took the ‘restrictive’ approach on safety issues. Simply put, beyond reported ‘worry and stress’ among farmers, no actual physical harm occurred.

NE argued that the ICO’s approach will lead to ‘drastic and terrifying results’, that it ‘could endanger people’s safety for no good reason’ and that it is ‘a reckless and thoughtless construction.’

Emotive language indeed, but the Judge noted that:

“… the limited police figures and correspondence available in evidence … do not support widespread chaos and illegality across the … cull areas.” Rather the contrary, as he pointed out:

 “Most of the incidents described seem to us to be perfectly lawful protester activity, such as marching or demonstrating to gain public support for their cause; or identifying participants who can be lobbied and using largely lawful methods to try to persuade them to cease involvement in the culls through social media, phone calls, writing polite letters to retailers of farm produce etc.” (Emphasis added)

Given the recent news about the release of the names of Devon farmers, and despite the fact that the majority of anti-cull people do not approve of abusive or confrontational behaviour, the phrase ‘perfectly lawful protester activity’ is worth studying.

NE also argued that the destruction or removal of the cage-traps ‘compromised public safety’. Such activity is illegal but, as Dorset Police said after the 2015 cull, there were no arrests or prosecutions because there were no witnesses or proof as to who was responsible. The Judge said:

“There is, for example, no necessary need to treat an adverse effect on property (such as a badger trap) as having the same weight as an adverse effect on safety from a physical attack on a person or an inhabited dwelling.”

Public Interest

Government and its allies have always cited ‘public interest’ when what they mean is ‘government interest’. The Judge said:

“… the whole basis of Aarhus and the Directive is to encourage public participation in environmental matters. That participation encompasses, as a central feature, public protest on matters of environmental concern. Where, as here, Government policy on an environmental issue is a matter of substantial debate and concern, the provision of environmental information, including information facilitating protest, is vitally important. Increased protesting in the cull areas (or better directed protesting) is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society.” (Emphasis added)

And:

“The ability to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the pilot culls is a significant public interest particularly in view of the public controversy surrounding the badger culls.”

The final paragraph of the Decision reads:

“We have considered the public interest balancing exercise and also the presumption in favour of disclosure and find that in all the circumstances of these appeals the public interest in maintaining the exceptions does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure for the reasons given above. In summary we find that in the circumstances of this case the weight we give to the ability of protesters to be able to more effectively monitor the effectiveness of a controversial Government policy is greater than the weight we give to the combined increasing risk of harm to farmers and the stopping of the culls.” (Emphasis added).

The Conclusion

Anna won, and now we know – the public has the right to far more information on the environment than the authorities are willing to disclose. The public has the right to use that information to monitor activities that could, or is, harming the environment. This decision supports that right and can be used when pressing for more information.

This isn’t just about the badger cull. It’s about fracking, nuclear power, government policies on GM, pesticides, herbicides and destructive ‘development’ on SSSIs. It is about the people’s right to fight for the health of the environment they are part of.

Indeed, the decision says that almost everything that ‘protesters’ are doing in their desire to stop some action that harms the environment (and all it contains) is legal Nor does it compromise public safety – although it may compromise unscientific prejudice or profits.

And note this: while this case was being heard Defra was holding a public consultation on its plans to considerably alter the guidance and regulations of the culls. People did respond to this consultation but Defra took no notice and did what it wanted anyway. Had this judgment been available, we would have read and acted on this:

“The fact that the Government is now… carrying out a consultation on aspects of the Policy supports the need for respondees to that consultation to have access to as much information as possible so as to provide informed responses.”

Well, they wouldn’t want ‘informed responses’, now would they?

Thank you, Anna.

Lesley Docksey © 29 /03/16

(First published by the Ecologist)

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BREAKING NEWS: Dorset Wounded Badger Patrols Start (September 2015)

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BADGER (Meles meles)

Photo credit: Colin Varndell

The Dorset Badger Patrols have started now that the Dorset badger cull is fully underway, and our badgers need you!

Are you appalled and saddened by this cruel and pointless cull?

Would you like to help to protect Dorset’s badgers by walking peacefully through the cull zone on public footpaths and rights of way?

If you’d like to find out more about Badger Patrols please have a look at this short film made by Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting which shows how people from all walks of life are rallying together to protect our wildlife:

 

PATROL MEET-UP DETAILS:

The Dorset Badger Patrols are meeting every evening at 7.30pm at Tescos Car Park in Blandford  DT11 9PU
(Turn off the Badger Roundabout on the A354)

The patrol routes will vary in length and each patrol will have a leader with a map of the route and all the tel. contacts needed.

You will need to bring:-

  • Suitable clothing for all terrain, including strong waterproof boots/shoes
  • A hi viz vest/jacket
  • A torch with spare batteries
  • Whistle
  • Mobile Phone
  • Water and snacks

If you have them please also bring:-

  • A camera/camcorder
  • OS Maps 117,118,129
  • A GPS device

UPDATE: Police Presence at our Patrol Meeting Place at Tescos Car Park, Blandford
Several folk have asked why we have the police present at our meeting place. The police are there to ensure that patrollers are not harassed or intimidated by any pro cull supporters. We do not advise the police of the patrol routes each evening, but they will keep a watchful eye on any patrols that have requested their help. They will also respond to any reports of intimidation, abuse or anti social use of vehicles against our Badger Protectors.

We hope to see you there and we are all there to protect our badgers and support each other to keep safe too.

No Justice for Hunt Saboteurs

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War is being waged in the countryside, in the fields and along the quiet lanes, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Dorset and Somerset ‘territory’ of the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hunt. On one side are the foxes and the hunt saboteurs; on the other the masters, the huntsman and hunt followers of various kinds.

The ‘sabs’, dedicated to protecting wildlife, are being targeted by people intent on ignoring the 2004 Hunting Act. The hunts believe the countryside belongs to them and they have the right to act as they please, regardless of law – a powerful lobby that seems to have a stranglehold on the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The sabs film everything, gathering evidence of hunting laws being broken by the hunts. And they film incidents of their vehicles being smashed, themselves being assaulted, badly beaten and in several cases hospitalised with their injuries. In the 1990s two sabs were killed yet no prosecutions followed. The situation hasn’t improved, as the lack of law demonstrates. And now the CPS has refused yet another case on ‘insufficient evidence’.

The ‘insufficient evidence’ consists of a film of a woman being deliberately galloped over by the BSV huntsman Mark Doggrell. Several other sabs witnessed the event. Having sent the woman flying, Doggrell galloped on without a backward glance. This happened during an evening cubbing meet in August near the Hunt’s kennels at Charlton Horethorne.

When contacted after the incident, the investigating officer said that, although he’d welcome additional evidence, he felt the police already had enough to prosecute. The additional evidence, from a farmer who needed to remain anonymous, was that the Hunt masters met with Doggrell that evening and decided on the statement he should give to the police.

During the meeting they reportedly said that they “couldn’t afford a hiccup this early in the season,” the implication being that they would have no one to take his place as huntsman, the man who looks after the hounds. Arrested and charged, he was soon seen back in the saddle.

Doggrell’s prepared statement said that the woman had deliberately jumped in front of his horse. The video clearly shows that she did not move from where she and her companion were standing with their backs to the oncoming horse.

The woman lost consciousness shortly after being struck. She had seven broken ribs, a punctured lung and ‘trauma’ to her shoulder. It was feared at the time that her spine had also been injured. An air ambulance attended the scene, partly because riders and horses blocked the normal ambulance from accessing the injured woman.

Mark Doggrell is a violent man. Last November he reportedly assaulted a young man at the local Hunt Ball, breaking his nose. Years ago while in his teens, after an argument with a young gamekeeper, he took an axe to the gamekeeper’s front door only, so local gossip had it, to be met on the other side of the broken-down door by the gamekeeper’s shotgun!

Since this incident the Dorset Hunt Sabs have been the target of ‘Anti-antis’, groups of violent masked men dressed to look like sabs and allegedly shipped in from other hunts. They appear at any BSV meet and attack the legitimate sabs, the most recent incident involving 30-40 of them. The BSV tells everyone that these thugs are the sabs, spreading the propaganda that the Hunt is squeaky-clean innocent and the sabs are criminals.

After the CPS decision the hunt sabs released the video to the press. According to the Sunday Times, “Michael Felton, senior master of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale Hunt, said the incident occurred during a legally permitted drag hunt that did not involve any live foxes being chased.” Well sorry Mike, this was a ‘cubbing’ meet, and the Hunt was witnessed drawing a cover to flush out foxes. There is a deal of difference between drag hunting (following a pre-laid scent) and fox hunting. The BVS wouldn’t be seen dead engaged in drag hunting.

The Countryside Alliance, with strong links to the NFU and founded during the campaign against the Hunting Act, gives the impression that all ‘real’ country folk support hunting. Not true. Many farmers dislike the hunts but are afraid to ban hunting on their land because of the attacks they suffer from hunt followers. As one farmer said, “my life wouldn’t be worth living.”

The hunts have never stopped breaking the law, taking full packs out and killing foxes, assaulting and injuring sabs while apparently safe from prosecution. And the war against people trying to stop hunting has reached a new and more violent stage.

The situation is not helped by the CPS refusing to prosecute what appeared, from a police point of view, to be a clear case. How much ‘sufficient evidence’ is needed? And one has to ask: who owns the law? The hunts? The landowners? The Countryside Alliance? Certainly not the people fighting to get the law complied with, and who should be protected by the law, not simply left to recover, as best they can, from their injuries.

On the positive side, because of the infamous badger culls in which sabs have played a vitally important part in preventing the needless killing of badgers, membership of the Hunt Saboteur Association has soared. More and more people are bravely standing up to defend both the law and our wildlife.

10/02/15 © Lesley Docksey

Detective sergeant Dan Mason 2141 Tel: 01935 402156

Dorset County Council to Vote on Badger Cull

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ballot boxA motion has been put forward for a vote at the Dorset County Council meeting on Thursday 18 July. It proposes that the council take a stand against culling badgers and that it objects to badgers being culled on council-owned land.

The motion reads as follows:

Notice of Motion by Dan Brember, County Council Member for Rodwell, under Standing Order 15 – Animal Welfare and Economic Impact that Bovine TB has on the Farming Community To consider the following motion submitted by Dan Brember:

‘This Council recognises the serious and damaging animal welfare and economic impact that Bovine TB has on the farming community.
This Council also notes that the Government’s ‘solution’ to bTB is shooting large numbers of free running badgers at night; a proposal that has met fierce criticism from the public, eminent scientists and animal welfare charities.

This Council is concerned that the Government has ignored public, parliamentary and scientific opinion by ploughing ahead with badger cull this summer in a cruel and ineffective attempt to tackle bTB.

This Council believes that the Government would better serve the farming community by investing money in vaccinations for badgers and cattle and encourage farmers to improve bio-security in order to achieve the long-term eradication of the disease in livestock. This Council resolves to write to Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs to: Highlight the Council’s concern about the practicalities as well as the welfare implications of the current proposed cull. Object to the cull taking place on Council-owned land. Call on the Government to seek alternative methods to tackle the problem of bTB.’

Dorset for Badger and Bovine welfare support this excellent motion and urge Councillors to vote in its favour.

We do not support the briefing paper that was attached to the motion by the Director of Environment Miles Butler. In it he ignores the fierce criticism that the badger cull has come under from those scientists who have studied and carried out long term trials and instead cherry-picks quotes (many now out of date) to support the government’s pro-cull position. In addition, he strongly infers that opposition to the cull is only a moral issue, discounting the strong scientific basis for challenging culling.

Please write to your County Councillor today and urge them to support Councillor Brember’s motion. You can find contact details for your councillor here.