Last week saw an unprecedented 6 live export shipments in 7 days from Ramsgate Port. At least 15,000 sheep were forced to endure many hours travelling across the country to Ramsgate in massively cramped conditions, standing in their own excrement, with limited access to food and water on some of the hottest days of the year. The onward 4 hours journey across the English Channel to Calais is followed by further hours travelling across Europe to meet a grisly end by cruel ritual slaughter. What’s happening at Ramsgate is animal cruelty on an industrial scale which, in a modern world, is morally, ethically and scientifically indefensible. Yet here in the UK this cruel and barbaric trade is state sponsored and supported by the use of physical force by government employees.
The export of live farm animals for slaughter in the EU has been taking place from Ramsgate, and occasionally Dover, since 2011. To the best of my knowledge these are the only ports in the UK which are hosting this cruel trade. In that time there have been more than 120 shipments which have transported over a quarter of a million animals to Europe for ritual slaughter.
The business is permitted by European free trade regulations which treat animals like goods and do not allow for any discretionary opt-out on the grounds of their welfare or preventing cruelty. In 2012 Thanet District Council, the owner of Ramsgate Port, imposed a temporary ban on live exports following the tragic destruction of 47 sheep at the port-side because they had been injured during the journey to Ramsgate or where otherwise unfit to continue their journey.
The exporters challenged Thanet Council’s ban in the High Court. The judge ruled that by banning live exports from its port the council had breached EU free trade agreements and that the trade should be allowed to recommence from the port. This judgment opened the doors to the live animal exporters to seek compensation for loss of business during the 5 week period in which the trade was banned. To date Thanet Council has paid out a staggering £5 million in compensation to those associated with this cruel trade – payments which many people, myself included, describe as blood money. According to Auditors, Grant Thornton LLP, who have just completed the annual audit of Thanet Council’s accounts for 2015-16, there is a significant risk that further compensation will have to be paid to those involved in the Ramsgate live exports business and that the council should realistically asses and “provide for this possibility in their forward financial planning”.
One of those exporters who received a share of the EU blood money was Thomas Edward Lomas. Along with Channel Livestock Ltd, Lomas was convicted by Dover Magistrates in 2014 of breaching the Welfare of Animals in Transport Order 2006 and being responsible for the deaths of some of the 47 sheep which had to be destroyed at Ramsgate Port in 2012. The court handed down costs and fines of over £20,000 to Lomas and Channel Exports and Lomas was sentenced to a suspended 6 month jail sentence. Incredible as it seems, Lomas and Channel Livestock although convicted of animal welfare offences, were able to share some of the generous compensation being paid by Thanet Council because the cruel trade they ply had, according to the High Court, been unlawfully stopped by Thanet Council. In, what can only be described as a travesty of justice, Lomas and Channel Livestock were being handsomely rewarded for their cruelty!
But it gets worse! Not only were tax-payers forced to pay the £5million blood money (compensation) to the exporters, but they have had to pay for lots of other things which allow this cruel trade to function. By my estimate at least £2.5 million has been spend on policing the demonstrations which have taken place at each of the 120 shipments from Ramsgate and Dover since 2011. Another £1.5 million, probably more, has been spent on the 20 plus prosecutions of anti-live exporter campaigners (most of whom were found not guilty) and the prosecution of the exporters. I reckon that another £1 million has also been spent processing the travel documentation of the exporters over the past 5 years and sending Government inspectors to check, albeit small samples and then not thoroughly, the animals being loaded on to the ferry Joline at Ramsgate. This means that the taxpayer has paid at the very least £10 million over the past 5 years to permit the export, in appalling conditions, of 250,000 sheep for ritual slaughter in the EU. That works out to be a stare sponsored “sadism subsidy” of £40 for each animal. Is it right that when survey after survey demonstrates that most people oppose this cruel trade, out Government is happy to subsidise sadism against animals? Had the Government used taxpayers money and the police force to facilitate the live export for slaughter of dogs, cats or horses, then I suspect there would be revolution on our streets. Yet just like cats, dogs and horses the 250,000 sheep are sentient beings who experience fear and feel pain.
Despite feeling overwhelmed by the power and money which has been brought to bear by the British state to protect and support a trade which is so obviously cruel and barbarous, I remain hopeful that it will be stopped. My faith lies in the fact that support for our campaign in Ramsgate is growing and spreading. This year, especially during the last couple of weeks, more and more people have begun to join our demonstrations, with almost 200 people coming together for a rally and protest against the shipment last Sunday. Many of those joining us are young people who are passionate about animal welfare and I for one am happy to hand over the baton to a new generation who will stand up for what they believe to be right.
My spirits are also lifted by the fact that internationally a movement against the long distance transportation of live animals is now beginning to take shape. In Europe there is the Stop the Trucks campaign which is supported by dozens of animal welfare groups. Here is the link to their website http://www.stopthetrucks.eu/en/ . Internationally there is the Animals Are Not Freight campaign (here is a link to their website http://notfreight.org/ ) which on the 29th August organised over 100 events in 33 different countries across the world. I was honoured to be invited to speak at their rally in London, which was organised by Compassion in World Farming. Cleary a powerful global movement against the cruel and barbaric long distance transportation of animals is now beginning to emerge across the world and Ramsgate is at the forefront of that movement.I am confident that those people standing up the for the welfare of animals in Ramsgate, like those who stood up against slavery, those who fought for votes for women, and those who campaign against racism and discrimination, are on the right side history and that soon this awful and cruel trade will banned across the world.