Farmers challenge Asda's 'unruly mob' claims as fewer face milk injunction

ASDA unfairly portrayed a farming pressure group as an "out-of-control mob" in an injunction it took out to stop protesters obstructing lorries outside depots, a court heard yesterday.

Farmers For Action (FFA) has criticised Asda after holding protests to represent dairy farmers in a dispute over milk prices and the supply chain, Leeds High Court was told.

The injunction prevents the FFA from obstructing or trespassing on Asda's premises and it was renewed against seven members but dropped against all other protesters by a judge yesterday.

The supermarket giant insists it only wants to prevent unlawful protests and that its price paid to farmers has increased to 26.25p a litre while its retail milk prices have not changed since last July.

David Handley, FFA chairman, told the court: "We would like the injunction to be lifted because we feel it's totally unjust. It's based on hearsay and information that has been derived from a number of sources of which FFA has no control over. At all times any individual that acts as a co-ordinator is always under instruction that he must confer with police on the site and, whatever their instruction is, he must obey it.

"We are not, as portrayed in this document, an 'out-of-control mob'. That is spurious and untrue. We're not a mob, we're not unlawful and we're not unruly."

Asda had applied for an injunction after incidents at depots in Chepstow, South Wales, and Skelmersdale, Lancashire, when it claimed FFA was protesting illegally.

But Mr Handley said FFA had obeyed police on where to stand and park at Chepstow and Skelmersdale protesters moved their cars from an entrance as soon as the co-ordinator arrived late.

Mr Handley and Stephen Frankland, FFA Yorkshire co-ordinator, were the only defendants in the injunction at court yesterday.

Judge Roger Kaye QC adjourned the case until January 21 to allow more evidence from Mr Handley, who confirmed that there will be no FFA protests organised in the next month.

"I propose to continue the injunction to the first seven defendants in the terms previously granted," Judge Kaye QC said.