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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK


Fury erupts at beef protest

The farmers wait outside the ferry port

Angry farmers protesting against the French ban on British beef have tried to storm a port in Dorset.

More than 200 farmers tried to break down the gates of Poole ferry port after waiting in vain to lobby French lorry-drivers arriving on a ferry from Cherbourg.

Organisers of the National Farmers' Union protest had hoped to speak calmly to French lorry drivers as they left the Truckline ferry on their way into Britain.

BBC News' Steve Humphreys reports on the latest protests
But the ferry was delayed an hour by bad weather, and in fact only one French lorry crossed the Channel, carrying corned beef and bananas.

After a three-hour wait the farmers, from across England and Wales, were told the lorry would not even be leaving the port.

[ image: A police officer was overcome and had to be helped away]
A police officer was overcome and had to be helped away
They charged 300 yards towards the ferry port gates to try and enter the lorry parking area, pursued by about 60 police officers. A Dorset police spokesman said one officer had been overcome by the weight of the crush as the protesters tried to enter the lorry bay.

Earlier in the evening several NFU spokesmen spoke of their frustration at the French ban, saying the UK Government should back British farmers more strongly.

'We're watching you'

Paul Simpson, chairman of the Dorset NFU, said: "The British Government must insist the ban be lifted... Our aim is to keep the profile of the issue high with the public and maintain pressure on the French Government to change its ridiculous and totally unjustified stance on British beef."

Richard Haddock, NFU chairman for Devon, said: "We have sent a clear message to the French tonight that their lorries are being watched at ports all over the country.

"Our government is not showing its teeth, it should be taking full legal action using the European courts. If the situation had been reversed the French would have done the job properly and the gendarmes would have helped them."

The protest at Poole followed action by West Country farmers at Millbay docks in Plymouth last week and a subsequent campaign to urge consumers to shun French produce.

Somerset County NFU chairman David Hubbart said: "We are trying to convince the British consumers to exercise their right to choose what they eat in favour of UK-produced food. If they choose not to eat French food it won't come in."

Prime Minister Tony Blair used the recent EU summit in Finland to warn the French that unless the ban was lifted the UK would sue.

But the French say that safety fears remain over British beef even though the ban has been lifted by the rest of the European Union.

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