Defying reality - Natural England authorises 'unlawful' cull

The bloodied corpse of badger 200, whisked away before it could be retrieved by cullers and subjected to a post-mortem that showed it had been shot in the wrong place and suffered a slow and painful death.
The bloodied corpse of badger 200, whisked away before it could be retrieved by cullers and subjected to a post-mortem that showed it had been shot in the wrong place and suffered a slow and painful death.

The bloodied corpse of badger 200 in the 2013 badger cull, whisked away before it could be retrieved by contractors, and subjected to a post-mortem that showed it had been shot in the wrong place and suffered a slow and painful death.

A High Court judgment on the lawfulness of the 2014 badger cull is awaited. A criminal investigation is under way on the dangerous and illegal behaviour of culling contractors. Obviously, writes Lesley Docksey, it's the perfect time for Natural England to authorise another round of culling.
The police cannot ensure public safety and they need to make that clear to the government before someone gets shot - which could be sooner than we thought.

You have to hand it to Natural England. Their timing of their authorisation for 2014 badger cull was nothing short of extraordinary.

It comes just as the High Court ponders its judgment on the legality of the cull, following a Judicial Review hearing last week called by the Badger Trust.

It also pre-empts the outcome of a criminal investigation by Gloucestershire Police following serious revelations by a whistle-blowing monitor employed by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

As reported on 14th August by The Ecologist, the monitor revealed that last year's pilot badger culls were not only badly organised - they were also full of dishonesty on the part of all those setting up and running the culls, and criminal behaviour on the part of the contractors doing the killing, seriously threatening the safety of the public.

Why the 2014 cull is unlawful

The Badger Trust set out a powerful case in the High Court last week, on 21st August, that any further culling must have independent monitoring and assessment, and would be unlawful in its absence.

This service was provided in the 2013 cull by the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) - but Defra decided against asking them back this year. Instead, Defra has stated it will proceed with the culls without them, and that "lessons have been learned" - so no more monitoring is necessary.

How much time the Defra barrister had to present its defence is not clear. The hearing was scheduled to take a day and as this was just before a Bank Holiday weekend, no one would want it to run over time, including the man who has to decide on the case, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker.

During the morning session, it was clear that the Trust's barrister was making extensive use of Defra's own documentation on the culls. Was there anything left for Defra to use in its defence? And could any other facts affect the judgment that will come in due course? As it happened, yes.

The whistle blower report raises serious questions - and a criminal investigation

The very day after the High Court hearing the news was released that Gloucester Police were setting up a criminal investigation, following the claims made by the whistle-blower, more details of which are gradually being released.

If anything should demand proper independent monitoring, it is surely the kind of behaviour that the monitor reported to Defra, which appears to have taken little or no action over the claims.

The Badger Trust had written to Environment Secretary Liz Truss when the whistle-blower report first came out. Like everyone, they want some answers:

The police cannot ensure public safety and they need to make that clear to the government before someone gets shot - which could be sooner than we thought.

"As you will be aware, this article was based on information provided by a whistle blower who worked as a cull monitor for AHVLA during the 2013 pilot culls. It raises serious concerns about the behaviour of both badger cullers and AHVLA contractors, which call into question the safety of the cull as well as the monitoring of its effectiveness.

"We would be grateful if you could confirm if you were aware of these allegations and identify what steps Defra took at the time this information was provided to investigate, including whether it was passed to the Independent Expert Panel for consideration? Please also confirm what measures have been put in place to prevent any such occurrences happening again?"

The Trust is still waiting for answers, but Gloucester Police are finally taking some action over the public safety issue. What took them so long?

Only protestors were arrested - but none charged

Gloucester Against Badger Shooting (GABS) sent them a 'specimen' list of 26 incidents of wrongdoing by culling contractors in January.

The list details trespass, physical harassment of protesters (including at least one case of bodily injury) by contractors, and several firearms offences and gun licence infringements. Many of these were reported at the time of the offence to the police.

Gloucester Police did make 39 arrests during the cull, all of them involving protesters, none of whom ended up in court. The same unbalanced policing occurred in Somerset.

Were any contractors in either county arrested, questioned and charged? Not as far as we know. And serious questions have to be asked. As Dominic Dyer of the Badger Trust says:

"The AHVLA monitor provided a full report on the serious public safety breaches by the cull contractor to Defra in January and met with Defra officials to discuss its key findings.

"Did Owen Paterson see this report and if so why did he not bring it to the attention of the Independent Expert Panel and Parliament? Was it covered up to ensure the pilot culls could continue despite the serious risk to public safety?"

Anti-cull campaigners have often said that they feel the police were very uninformed over what contractors could or couldn't do, what constituted 'crimes' and 'offences' and when they could, for instance, make arrests.

But as The Ecologist has made clear, this is a serious public safety issue, and one that needs to be urgently addressed before any more culling takes place.

SABC - police and Natural England must review the evidence

In their press release about the criminal investigation, Somerset Against the Badger Cull (SABC) say they are now asking both Avon and Somerset Police and Natural England to "review all the video, audio and written recordings from the AHVLA monitors from last year." They feel, as many do, that the government is not to be trusted over the safety issue.

SABC "congratulates Gloucestershire police in taking this matter seriously and urges Avon and Somerset Constabulary to apply the same rigour before shooters such as these are let loose in our countryside again."

Avon & Somerset have already announced that in future culls representatives of the National Farmers Union and the culling company HNV Associates Ltd will not be present in the police control room, something that caused outrage when it became known.

But it was one more sign that the setting up of the culls had been a shambles; that the people involved were poorly trained; that no proper safety assessments had been done; and very that little thought had been given to the role the police were expected to fulfil.

The police have failed - so far

The police are there to prevent crime, to investigate wrongdoing and arrest the perpetrators, and to protect the public from criminal behaviour.

They had been given so little information that they were unable to perform any of these duties during the cull. Adding to the problem they had received the impression (from both Defra, the NFU and the contracting companies) that anything the contractors did was lawful.

The second phase of the badger culls was supposed to have started this week. Things are on hold. The culls cannot be policed because of the NATO summit in Newport, which will require 9,000 of their officers to be on duty.

And will the government be foolhardy enough to go ahead without waiting for the result of the Judicial Review? Given their sheer arrogance, they may go ahead. But a wise man or woman, which the government apparently lacks, would wait.

And now Natural England gives the go-ahead

Surely now, before any further badger culling takes place, the issue of public safety must be faced and addressed by the government.

To have irresponsible gunmen, using high-powered rifles with bullets that can travel up to a mile with lethal effect and with little apparent knowledge of either our wildlife or the terrain within which they are operating, arrogantly bumbling out of control in the dark is simply not to be allowed.

Under such circumstances the police cannot ensure public safety and they need to make that clear to the government before someone gets shot.

And now that Natural England has issued its authorisations for the 2014 culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, that could be sooner than we thought.

NE insists that Defra and the AHVLA have developed a robust monitoring regime. They appear not to have noticed that the whistle-blower was employed by the AHVLA.

To announce this just after the whistle-blower revelations; while the Judicial Review judgment is still to come; and when the police investigation has only just started demonstrates all too clearly how keen Natural England, Defra and their affiliates are to kill, regardless.

It's enough to make me weep.



Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist on the badger cull and other environmental subjects.

See her other articles for The Ecologist.


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