“Cabinet minister Owen Paterson has revealed he has received more death threats over ordering a cull of badgers than he ever did from Irish terrorists.
He vowed to take on ‘dangerous armed groups… who want to destroy what’s been achieved and drag Northern Ireland back to a bloody past’ during two and a half years as Northern Ireland Secretary.
But in a startling confession he claimed animal rights campaigners had issued more warnings that he will be killed in just four months as Environment Secretary.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson insisted he would not be diverted from the policy of culling badgers by threats against his life.
The 56-year-old insisted his willingness to defy threats against his own life demonstrated his commitment to plough ahead with a cull of thousands of badgers in an attempt to curb the spread of tuberculosis among cattle.
Weeks after being moved to head farming policy in September’s reshuffle, Mr Paterson was forced to announce two pilot badger culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire would be delayed until summer 2013.
Up to 5,500 badgers are due to be shot in the two areas, under plans to cull at least 70 per cent of the badger population.
Opponents of the policy hailed it is a minor victory and hoped to force the government to abandon it altogether.
But Mr Paterson told an audience of farmers he was completely committee to the cull, even if it meant more death threats.
‘I have had more death threats since I took over at DEFRA than I did when I was Secretary for Northern Ireland,’ he said during an event with farmers in Devon.
‘But these animals die a horrible death from this disease – and it is not sensible to let any population get over-preponderous.’
Mr Paterson was Norther Ireland Secretary at a time of angry clashes between police and loyalist rioters in Belfast, which left dozens of officers injured.
Photographs of Mr Paterson’s home were published online, along with addresses and personal telephone numbers by animal rights activists.
A website also printed the names, addresses and phone numbers of senior civil servants, board members of Natural England, which is licensing the cull, and officials at the National Farmers Union.
Mr Paterson’s aides said his decision to go public about the number of death threats was fueled by a desire to demonstrate to farmers his ‘commitment’ to his policy. ‘He is very serious and this cull will go ahead.’
Officials refused to give details of the number of death threats made against Mr Paterson, citing security concerns.
However, there have been several high profile cases of supporters of the cull being threatened with violence.
Protestors against the badger cull have held a series of rallies, but some hardline opponents have threatened ministers and farmers.
Compensation to farmers whose herds are depleted by TB costs the taxpayer up to £100m a year.
Famous faces including Queen guitarist Brian May and Sir David Attenborough have voiced opposition to the cull, and called for peaceful protest against the plan.
But the campaign has been hijacked in some areas by animal rights extremists threatening abuse, violence and even firebombings against supporters of the cull.
Farmers in pilot areas have been warned their land, buildings and homes would be targeted if they signed up to a cull.
And two years ago Countryfile presenter Adam Henson said his family had been threatened after fronting reports on the spread of bovine TB.
Mr Henson, a dairy farmer in Gloucestershire, said: ‘There are some very nasty extremists about. I have had some serious hate letters from them – things like: “We are going to burn your children.”’
Related Owen Paterson – I’ve had death threats over badger cull