A DEATH threat by hunt extremists to Ben Bradshaw, the Animal Welfare Minister, has prompted police to review protection of anti-hunt ministers and MPs for the General Election campaign. Mr Bradshaw told The Times that a menacing message warning him that his life was in danger was left on his Exeter constituency office answerphone. The threat by an intimidating male voice frightened his assistants and left them distraught. “I did not hear the message myself but it was clear they were out to get me,” he said.
It came after an incident in Exeter last month when hunt protesters jeered Mr Bradshaw and an “offal bomb” was thrown at him causing a cut near his eye. He has decided to speak out about the threat even if it risks “upping the ante” because he is concerned for the welfare of his civil servants and political aides. A prominent gay, he also believes some of the motivation from the hunting community is homophobic.
He said: “I’ve had fake blood thrown over me in an anti-Kosovo war protest and an offal bomb thrown at me by hunt protesters and now this death threat. This goes with the territory and anyone in public life is aware that they are vulnerable because we are democratically elected politicians and we are accessible.
“But I am deeply troubled about the effect of all this on the people who work in my office and civil servants who are with me on visits and get caught up in it all. Most of my officials are female and they have been affected and are unsettled by it all. It is extremely threatening behaviour, very loud and frankly pretty abusive.”
He also blamed the attacks on “certain homophobic elements in the Countryside Alliance. Many placards bear slogans such as ‘Gay Rights, What About Our Rights?’ One of the arguments of the Alliance is that they are an oppressed minority and link it with gay and lesbian equality. I don’t think that is a helpful point to make.”
His view is shared by Chris Bryant, the gay Labour MP for Rhondda. Last week Paul Rees, 38, was sentenced to 220 hours’ community punishment after admitting he had harassed Mr Bryant and called him “a poof, pervert and child abuser”.
What also emerged in court however and has not been reported until now is that Rees is also a keen hunt supporter.
Police chiefs are now taking seriously the possibility of violent confrontation by hunt activists during the election campaign. It is likely that politicians at risk of reprisal attacks may be given personal protection officers if their diary engagements bring them in contact with hunt protesters or are in communities with strong hunting traditions.
Security experts have already advised Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, and her team — Alun Michael, who steered the hunt ban through Parliament, Elliot Morley, Lord Whitty and Mr Bradshaw. Peter Hain, Leader of the House and Welsh Secretary, has also been given security advice after being targeted several times by hunt protesters.