AVON and Somerset police chiefs have defended their decision to invite members of the National Farmers’ Union and a badger cull company into their control room during the culls last year.

They say the action was taken to ensure ‘public safety’.

The West Somerset branch of the Labour Party wrote to the police and crime commissioner Sue Mountstevens with a series of questions, asking, among other things if representatives had access to information about people arrested during the cull.

A document leaked in May revealed that a representative of the NFU was present in the Avon and Somerset Police control room while badgers were being shot.

Also allegedly present were representatives from HNV Associates, the company which carried out the cull in the district.

A response from Ms Mountstevens said she endorsed what Avon and Somerset Police had to say about public safety and added that the policing of the badger cull had been ‘transparent’.

She said she plans to meet badger cull protesters at the end of this month to talk through their concerns.

A letter from Supt Kevin Instance insists that the cull company and NFU did not receive any personal information about protesters.

He said: “The arrangements we had in place were to maximise public safety through our command and control plan.

"It was noted as best practice by the review team and recommended to other forces that might experience the badger cull in their areas in future.”

Andy Lewis, of the West Somerset Labour Party, said: “We welcome the fact that the police have responded to the questions we put to them, and that the need for confidentiality and impartiality is recognised.

“Avon and Somerset Police seem to recognise that there’s a need for a degree of separation between police officers and representatives of the NFU and the contractors.

“We still believe the best way to achieve this is for the contractors to have a separate control room with a police presence there to observe what goes on.

“This is the solution that was used Gloucestershire during last year’s cull and we hope it will be adopted in Somerset.”

The pilot badger culls carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year were found to be ineffective and inhumane by an Independent Expert Panel.

Despite a vote against the programme in Parliament in April, the decision was taken to continue with the culls, which are due to start imminently.