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The fight goes on against live animal exports

Protestors at Ramsgate port
Protestors at Ramsgate port

Story and picture by Jamie Stephens


IT’S BARELY seven in the morning and already a crowd is forming at the Port of Ramsgate.

No holidaymakers or happy faces today though, just a large contingent of police, a handful of protestors and a pair of RSPCA inspectors.

It’s been three weeks since a high court injunction forced the council to reopen the port to live exports, previously suspended after a catastrophic day that saw nearly 50 sheep die.

It’s still upsetting for RSPCA inspectors Caroline Doe, 31, and Tina Nash, 38, who were left with the responsibility of putting the injured animals to sleep.

"Seeing that many terrified animals staggering about with broken limbs, torn ligaments… you just want to put them out of their misery," said Caroline. "It was horrific."

"You try to switch off, but how do you block out having to do that?" said Tina.

Both are back on duty this morning – as they have been every morning the sheep lorries have come through. It’s not just the early start that’s caused the weary look in their eyes:

"The situation’s worse," said Caroline. "We have no powers, we can’t stop the trucks, we can only point out potential problems. If the sides of the truck are closed you can’t even see the sheep. It’s frustrating."

Even when the animals are visible there’s a limit to what they can achieve. Three days earlier six lorries and 3,5000 sheep arrived and left in 35 minutes – a small window of opportunity for the two officers, who now know first hand what’s at stake.

"We were running about with a ladder like something out of Benny Hill, desperately trying to check as much as we could. We still found a number of issues in that limited amount of time. Who knows what we would have found with a proper inspection."

Are the drivers happy for them to inspect their trucks? The pair choose their words carefully: "Uncooperative, shall we say?"

Measured words given that Tina fell from a ladder a while back after the lorry it was propped against decided to drive off mid-inspection. She escaped injury – but her anger is still evident.

Anger is also evident outside, where by now about 25 protestors have gathered. The lorries are running late, and a small but vocal number direct their frustration at the police. Despite the ripe language, Chief Inspector Peter de Lozey sympathises: "For the moment though, this is a legal trade.

"Believe me, all of my officers would rather be policing their own communities, but such is the strength of feeling here that we need to be present."

He’s deployed a Section 14 order, keeping the protestors within a fenced area – he has their safety to think about, and that of his staff. Last month two officers were injured in the fracas that accompanied the reopening of the port, one punched in the face by an elderly woman. A couple of protestors were nearly run over.

Across the fence there are complaints of heavy-handedness and fury at the use of taxpayers’ money to police what is – in their mind – a criminal enterprise.

As well as anger, there is despair, but also dogged determination.

The first protestors arrive at six; others travel from a distance. Bill Fisher is 74 and comes from East Sussex. He’s been present at every protest against live animal exports for the last 25 years.

It depresses him that there is still the need for him to protest.

"Last week one of the sheep had its horn torn off and was covered in blood. The shipping people just shot it in its pen surrounded by hundreds of other sheep and dragged the body through the bars. How can that be right?"


I heard this earlier from the RSPCA inspectors. Bill thinks they threw the body into the sea.

Dorothy Welby, 72, has made a shorter journey from Broadstairs but is no less despairing of the situation: "There’s been too much death at this port." She expects to protest until it stops, or she dies.

Three lorries arrive. Packed into containers, the 1,000 or so sheep have already had a journey time of anything up to 10 hours. Now they face another five or six hours at sea and it’s anyone’s guess after that.

Their alternative is death through fear, suffocation, crushing or disease. So why transport them alive?

Well, an English sheep slaughtered in France automatically becomes a French sheep. It’s also better money for the British farmer.

Within seconds the lorries have passed the protestors, leaving some to turn their attentions to the police. Elsewhere, Tina and Caroline are equipped with stepladders to check the trailers. As they set up, the lorries just drive forward.

Or back up when they reposition the ladders. Twenty minutes later the ship leaves.

It’s as depressing as it is frustrating. The protestors don’t want to be there, the police don’t want to be there, neither do the RSPCA – and we can only assume the sheep would rather be somewhere else.

But until someone makes new laws it’s a situation that will remain. Protestors will protest, police will police and animals will go on suffering.

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