Police warn badger cull could spark clashes

A badger cull could spark clashes between farmers and animal rights protesters which stretched police forces would struggle to control, Britain’s domestic head of extremism has warned.

Two trial badger culls are planned next year in south-west England, where bovine tuberculosis is most acute.

Farm minister Jim Paice said a final decision on the cull was expected before Christmas after the government said it was “strongly minded” to sign it off in July.

If the cull goes ahead, it could clash with major security challenges, including the London 2012 Olympics.

In an email sent to the government, Detective Chief Superintendent Adrian Tudway, the national co-ordinator for domestic extremism, warned police forces could be overwhelmed by protesters.

“Given the difficult nature of policing this initiative, the steps forces are taking to respond to new financial pressures and the proximity of this initiative to other competing policies forces will find themselves under huge pressures to manage even small but sustained campaign activity, particularly where that includes inlawful direct action and subsequent criminal investigations.”

Writing on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Det Ch Supt Tudway warned against “pitting farmers against activists” which “has the potential to create divisions and therefore conflict within rural communities”.

His remarks, reported in The Independent on Sunday, come following reports of a Cabinet split on the issue. Home secretary Theresa May is understood to have voiced concerns last month that the cull could stretch police as it coincides with the olympics.

However, ministers have attempted to play down the fears of attacks against farmers as trained marksmen would be licensed to carry out the cull.

Badgers are considered to be the main vector for bovine TB, which costs the taxpayer up to £100m a year. DEFRA has warned the disease will cost £1bn in England alone over the next decade unless more action is taken.