Muckspreader 21 November

(This is the original version of what was subsequently somewhat abbreviated in Private Eye)

Cambridgeshire farmer Robin Page, whose robust speeches on behalf of the countryside entertain audiences up and down the land, has not had much luck on his recent visits to the Cotswolds. One episode, which has already attracted press attention, began when he was invited by the Countryside Alliance to speak at its Frampton countryside fair in September to drum up support for the countryside march. Page began by suggesting that the inhabitants of Britain's beleaguered countryside only wanted the government to accord them the same rights as other persecuted minorities, such as blacks, Moslems and gays. He was then sent a cutting from the local paper reporting that local police were investigating complaints that the countryside fair had been 'hi-jacked by the pro-hunting lobby' and that Page's speech had incited 'racial hatred'. The paper gave the telephone number of Sergeant Geoff Clark at Stonehouse police station, anxious to hear from members of the public who had been upset by Page's remarks.


Shortly afterwards Clark rang Page at his Cambridgeshire farm to say he was driving up to "take a statement". When he arrived, with a tape recorder, he told Page that the interview would take place 'under caution' according to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. When a startled Page pointed out that he could not agree to such an interview without his lawyer being present, he was arrested, taken to Cambridge police station and locked in a cell.
 
 When he explained that his lawyer could not arrive from London until the following morning, he was told that in that case he would have to spend the night in the cells. With cows to be fed back on the farm, he reluctantly agreed that the interview should proceed, but was even more surprised to discover that the policeman had no idea what had actually been said in the speech. Page had been arrested, it seemed, simply on the basis that one unnamed person had complained that in his opinion Page's speech had included 'racist comments'. After the interview, the policeman claimed that people like Page were a menace because they went round "offending the moderates".

While Page waits to hear whether he faces prosecution under the Race Relations Act, he is also baffled by another recent incident when he was invited to join Lord Plumb, fomer President of the NFU, in giving after-dinner speeches to a harvest supper staged by the Cotswold Food Group. On  arriving, Page was somewhat taken aback to be told that he would only be expected to tell a few dirty jokes. After Lord Plumb had droned on for 20 minutes, claiming that the problems of British agriculture were all the fault of farmers for failing to respond to the needs of their customers, Page pointed out that it was hardly appropriate to crack jokes when one British farmer is commiting suicide every five days. It was hard to agree with Plumb that the problem was caused by farmers failing to meet the needs of the marketplace when 75 percent of that market is dictated by supermarkets, farmers are treated with contempt by the government and receive no support whatever from Lord Plumb's NFU.  As he spoke, he noticed a red-faced Plumb scribbling furious notes to the chairman. After a few minutes Page was ordered to stop speaking and sit down. Several guests, including a judge, came up to apologise and to commend his comments. But clearly free speech is no longer very high on the Cotswolds agenda.