Defra 'seeks to sack badger panel'
Badger cull protesters have accused the Government of acting unlawfully by breaking a promise and seeking to "sack the referee" monitoring its pilot "controlled shooting" policy.
The Badger Trust is seeking a High Court declaration that this year's planned cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset supported by the Government and Natural England should not be allowed to continue without an independent expert panel (IEP) in place to ensure the cull is both effective and humane.
The Government argues no promise had been broken, and its policy is a necessary part of a wider range of plans to address the "increasing and very serious" problem of bovine TB (bTB) badgers are said to help spread.
David Wolfe QC, appearing for the Trust, today told a judge an IEP had been in place over the summer and into the autumn of 2013, the first year of the pilot scheme.
The aim was to test the Government's "assumption" that culling by means of the controlled shooting of free-roaming badgers would be safe, effective and humane.
Mr Wolfe said the then secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs initially claimed last year's cull as a success.
But the IEP concluded that the controlled shooting method "had not been effective or humane".
In the light of that assessment the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had decided not to "roll out" culling this year to any other areas but to continue the culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset for the remainder of the proposed four-year culling period.
Mr Wolfe said the problem was the current culls were still being treated as "pilots", despite the controlled shooting method having clearly failed.
He told Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, sitting in London, that at the heart of today's application for judicial review was the decision to go ahead with this year's planned cull without putting in place any IEP.
Mr Wolfe accused current Defra secretary of state Liz Truss of failing to stick to a Government promise that an independent panel of experts would oversee and evaluate the pilot culls and report back prior to any decision being made about whether the culling policy should be rolled out more widely.
He said: "The secretary of state has gone beyond simply moving the goalposts. She is now seeking to sack the independent referee."
A Defra spokesman said: " It would not be appropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
"However, we have always been clear that the Independent Expert Panel's role was to oversee the six-week pilots in the first year of the culls.
"We have acted on their recommendations to improve effectiveness and humaneness and this year's programme will be independently audited.
"Overseas experience shows a comprehensive strategy is the way to make England disease free.
"This includes cattle movement controls and vaccinating healthy badgers, which could play an important role in preventing the spread of bovine TB to new areas of the country.
"A responsible and effective approach must also include culling in areas where the disease is rife."
Scores of anti-cull supporters, many with faces painted with black-and-white badger markings, gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice to demonstrate their opposition to the shooting of badgers.
Among them was broadcaster and naturalist Bill Oddie, who said the Government could not be trusted and was "lying and manipulating the figures" relating to last year's cull.
He said: "My point is we are being lied to and figures are being manipulated not just in this but in just about every walk of life.
"I simply don't trust this Government and the departments that work for it, like Defra.
"That is why we need somebody from the outside. That is why we need IEPs. The last IEP was very thorough, not prejudiced and tried to be as responsible as possible. That is why I believe their figures."
Mr Oddie said he did not trust the Government when it said it had not promised an IEP beyond the first year of culling, and that the situation was still being assessed by scientists and experts.
He described the Government reaction as childish. He said: "The IEP criticised them last year, and they are saying: 'We don't want that again this year, do we?' They are a bunch of flipping schoolboys."
Mr Oddie said that, instead of shooting badgers, there should be "a well-organised vaccination programme, and a review of the movement of cattle as well".
Demonstrators came from all over the country, chanting loudly and waving banners outside the court, with some wearing badger costumes.
Angela Ashley, 47, from Taunton, West Somerset, a volunteer with the Somerset Badger Patrol, said outside the Royal Courts of Justice: "It is an unfair cull and scientifically not proven."
She said: "We want to see the cull stopped. This is meant to be happening for four years."
She stressed that the patrol was a peaceful group which wanted to work with Defra and farmers to see a "dreadful" disease eradicated without killing badgers.
Nigel Tolley, from Stourbridge, West Midlands, a member of the Badger Trust and part of the Badger Army, said: "The major aim of the case is to reinstate the independent expert panel.
"Last year, from the official reports from the panel a lot of badgers took over 10 minutes to die, which is completely unacceptable. It is completely inhumane.
"Badgers are dying in agony and taking forever to die."
Disabled Nick White, 65, from Barnstaple, North Devon, was also outside court to demonstrate against the cull - in May he took part in a 10-day walk from Gloucester to London as part of the ongoing campaign, travelling on his motorised scooter.
He said: "The best result would be for the court to come out in favour of the Badger Trust to put an end to this cruel cull. It is absolutely pointless. It is cruel and there is no scientific background."
Tina Hallett and her husband Jeffrey, both in their 60s and from Ilminster, Somerset, joined demonstrators who had come from as far apart as Yorkshire, Surrey and Essex as well as West Country areas directly affected by the cull.
Mrs Hallett said: "Nobody is listening to anybody. The Government is just telling us lies, so we are standing up for the badgers."
Pamela Hyett, 65, from Coleford, Gloucestershire, said: "I am terribly opposed to the cull of badgers. I don't think they are responsible for spreading bovine TB.
"I think the responsibility is with the farmers and the lack of bio-security measures and control over cattle movements.
"Badgers are just being used as scapegoats as this Government tries to please the farmers because it is hoping they will vote for them at the next election and they will get in again.
"I was a Conservative voter, but I will not be again."
Alison Mills, who lives near Ringwood in the New Forest, said: "What is going on is wrong and it is unscientific and it is not doing farmers any favours.
"Culling will not do any good; if anything it will make TB worse."
Vanessa Boultwood, 60, from Guildford, Surrey, said: "People are travelling here from all over the country because they wish to demonstrate against this atrocity."
Blue Badger, which represents Conservatives against the cull, joined the demonstration.
Campaign founder Lorraine Platt said: " We support the scientific evidence against the badger cull which will not eradicate Tb in cattle.
"We want England to follow Wales' example which has seen dramatic drops in TB in cattle without badger culling. Wales vaccinates badgers and has annual cattle testing programmes."