Avon and Somerset Police have given answers to seven questions posed by Labour about the policing of the badger cull. The response seeks to justify the presence in a police control room of representatives from the National Farmers Union and the contractors who were shooting badgers.
Superintendent Kevin Instance responded to letters from West Somerset Labour Party and the Bristol East Labour MP, Kerry McCarthy, which listed seven areas of concern. In his letter, he says that what he calls “partner agencies” were in the control room to maximise public safety and to enable the police to stop the shooting if necessary.
The Superintendent insists that the cull company and the NFU did not receive personal information about anti-cull protestors. He says the control room was arranged so that the contractors and the NFU could not hear radio communications from the police.
But the reassurances have to be seen against the background of a police disciplinary report into events one night in October. A protestor who called 999 to say he had been assaulted was treated as a suspect by police. And the report speaks of representatives from the police, the contractors and the NFU all giving directions to a police communications operator.
Control Room Chaos
Andy Lewis of West Somerset Labour Party said: “We welcome the fact that the police have responded to the questions we put to them and that the need for confidentiality and impartiality is recognised. But we wonder whether the official policy corresponds with reality.
“Superintendent Instance’s letter gives a picture of a well-managed control room. But the police’s own report into the incident at Carhampton gives a very different picture. It suggests that the control room was a chaotic place, where people were shouting across each other and conflicting information was flying back and forth, not being reported properly.
“Avon and Somerset Police seem to recognise that there is a need for a degree of separation between police officers and representatives of the NFU and the contractors. We still believe the best way to achieve this is for the contractors to have a separate control room, with a police presence there to observe what goes on. This is the solution that was used Gloucestershire during last year’s cull and we hope it will be adopted in Somerset.”