The Government approached Gloucestershire Police to ask them to provide radios to marksmen during the badger cull, it was revealed tonight.
Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl questioned senior police officers from Gloucestershire Constabulary about the way they handled incidents during Operation Themis, the police’s response to the cull.
Chief constable (CC) Suzette Davenport, together with Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Richard Berry, Superintendent (SI) Jim McCarthy, Inspector Mark Ravenscroft and Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Steve Bean were questioned about incidents and various complaints throughout the weeks of the cull.
The officers were quizzed about the cull, which cost the constabulary some £2.3 million.
The final amount was many times above the original cost anticipated by the force, although the money would be reimbursed by the Government by June, according to Mr Surl.
CC Davenport said the original amount was announced months before the actual cull, and the extension had cost the police more as well.
In total, officers worked 89 days on full-time operations, it was revealed tonight, with many having to give up rest days and working overtime.
During the planned eight-week extension, police officers were essentially on 24-hour patrols. Free shooting and cage trapping meant they had to prevent damage to traps while keeping the peace in the countryside, putting a huge strain on resources.
She added: “We have taken about 18 months to two years to plan for the six weeks cull, and there were various issues to take care of.
“We planned for six weeks and the when the cull was extended, the costs increased as well.”
Mr Surl, who had previously spoken out against the Government’s plan for an extension, said it interfered with the police’s daily work.
ACC Berry, the gold commander, told the chamber it had been “one of the largest deployment” of police officers ever.
It was also revealed there were 150 stop and searches during the cull period, something which Mr Surl said caused “quite a lot of dissatisfaction”, especially with people stopped more than twice on the same night.
He said it was “unacceptable” that officers could not communicate with each other through their radios when it came to the stopping suspects.
But SI McCarthy said because people were moving about, it was difficult to track who had been stopped previously.
He added: “In terms of the numbers of stop and searches, 150 over 89 days is actually a very small amount, proportionately.
“When that [cage trapping] started, we saw a vast increase in offences, damages to cages and thefts.
“About 320 cages were damaged, and 120 stolen during that time. I can imagine the amount of pressure for the people responsible for those cages.”
Mr Surl also raised the issue of former star of TV show Gladiators David McIntosh, who had crashed a van full of dead badgers into a bus shelter in Gloucester city centre on September 29, around 12.50am.
McIntosh, 28, told police he was distracted when he dropped a radio he was using to keep tabs on protesters who were shadowing the trial cull, Stroud Magistrates Court had heard.
He was fined £91 with a £20 victim surcharge, told to pay £30 costs and his licence was endorsed with six penalty points.
But police officers tonight categorically denied any contact with McIntosh about the cull, or about location of protesters.
SI McCarthy told the chamber McIntosh had been collecting dead badgers from cull operators that night the van crashed, although they could not explain why he was in the centre of Gloucester.
ACC Berry denied police were offering protesters’ locations because they wanted to maintain operation independence.
He added the Home Office and Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) had approached Gloucestershire Police last July to ask them to supply operators with radios linked to the police’s.
The answer was a firm ‘no’, again because they could not be seen to take sides.
DCI Bean said it was “incorrect” that McIntosh was in touch with the police, but was instead in radio contact with the cull operation headquarters.
Mr Surl said the extension and cull must have placed a huge strain on police officers. CC Davenport said although there was no increase in crime, it had become taxing for her officers.
“Ideally what some these people wanted was for us to intervene, but sometimes it was not a criminal situation,” she said.
“In terms of the impact on the people, there was certainly an impact, during the impact, on my staff.
“After the cull was extended, officers had to work rest days and over time, and they became tired. Not just from working those hours, but also from the angst and aggravation of these events.”
ACC Berry said they were “surprised” when they were told on October 23 the cull would be extended another eight weeks, longer than the original window.
It would have taken it well into winter. There were five briefings each day for officers taking part in the patrols, which lasted all day and night.
Free shooting and cage trapping put weighed down the officers, according to SI McCarthy, because they had to keep protesters safe while ensuring operators’ traps were not sabotaged.
Protesters had accused officers of being heavy handed and working with the National Farmers Union (NFU) on their injunction limiting protests in the countryside.
But all the officers denied this, with ACC Berry insisting the police had no involvement in developing the injunction, and had heard about it only on August 22, days before it came out in the media.
Mr Surl accused the NFU and Defra of giving people “false hope” that the cull was going as planned.
He added that there were lessons to be learned from this year’s cull as officers prepare for this year’s operation.