Richard North, 03/07/2005  

One of the stories that would have appeared in the Booker column this week, had not the new Sunday Telegraph editor, Sarah Sands, lost her marbles and junked the column in favour of the Live8 crap is one that is quite horrific in its own right, and makes us wonder how much of a police state this once proud and free nation has become.

Featured on the front page of Fishing News this week, the headline only hints at the real story: "Skipper held at gunpoint". This is skipper Andrew Leadley of the Whitby trawler Success III but the gang of desperados who held him at gunpoint were no ordinary criminals or even terrorists. They were in fact members of the Royal Navy from the fisheries protection vessel HMS Mersey, a River Class offshore patrol vessel acting under the orders of our own Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), enforcing the EU's Common Fisheries Policy.

The incident happened last week when skipper Leadley was fishing on the Dogger Bank, alongside a fleet of German and Dutch trawlers, when he was stopped by the Mersey and boarded by an inspection team from the vessel. After being asked to haul, the boarding officer found everything to be in order with the gear and the fish room. He signed the log book, indicating his satisfaction with what had been found, and gave Leadley his permission to shoot the gear.

Then, while waiting on deck to be picked up, the officer, without warning returned to the wheelhouse and demanded, without giving any explanation, that Leadley haul immediately. Skipper Leadley at first refused, at which point, he says, "all hell broke lose".

He was warned that if he did not haul immediately, the Mersey – armed with a 20 mm cannon and two machine guns – would fire a shot 200 yards ahead of the boat. If that brought no response, it would be followed by one 100 yards ahead; the third would go through the funnel and the fourth through the wheelhouse.

When the gear was hauled, and again without any explanation, Leadley was ordered to steam his vessel to Grimsby. While steaming, which took 48 hours, three armed guards were placed in his wheelhouse and Leadley and his crew were placed under arrest and forbidden to communicate with anyone via the satellite phone.

The captain of the Mersey who, throughout, had refused to give his name, ordered Leadley to follow a set course, and refused thereafter to speak to him over the RT, even when Leadley pointed out that the course set would have grounded him ashore at Withernsea. He even refused him permission to hold off at the entrance to the estuary of the Humber, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world – which was at the time cloaked in dense fog – until Grimsby lock gates were opened, thus forcing Leadley to dodge shipping for several hours while he waited.

On landing, Leadley had his gear confiscated and has been refused permission to return to sea. He has been interviewed at length by Defra officials, but no charges have been laid and no explanation has been given to the vessel owners as to why the unprecedented action had been taken.

Interestingly, Leadley had two Russian crewmen on board and, during the arrest, they said this was worse than anything they had experienced during the worst days of the Soviet dictatorship, it was so threatening.

In the same week that the Royal Navy was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar, with the review in Portsmouth – this is what it has come down to. No longer faced with any real enemy, the Navy is turning its guns on its own people, acting in a manner that not even the Soviet dictatorship countenanced, all at the behest of a foreign power in Brussels which has become our government.

Nelson must be turning in his grave.

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