For some reason, I just cannot imagine this ever happening in the US. Police in the UK are offering animal rights protesters an out-of-court settlement of £40,000 (about US$73,500) after they were prevented from joining a protest against livestock exports.

     The group of London-based campaigners, who represented several animal rights groups, accused Kent police of using oppressive tactics after their bus was stopped as it entered Dover in July 2006 en route to a demonstration against the shipping of sheep and cattle to the Continent.

     (Some readers may recall Jill Phipps, who was killed by a transport truck in Coventry as she protested live export in 1995.)

     The protesters, including a disabled boy and several elderly people, claimed they were threatened with arrest after leaving the bus to plead their case with police. They were photographed before being escorted back to London by two police cars and two motorcycles.

     Now lawyers for Kent police have offered each of the 32 protesters £1,250 (about US$2,300) in compensation following a claim brought against the force alleging that the group was unlawfully denied the right to protest.

     The animal rights proceedings are the latest in a catalogue of legal complaints about the policing of demonstrations, including the May Day protests in central London and the decision to prosecute Maya Evans, a vegan cook who was arrested in 2005 for reading out a list of Britain’s dead from the Iraq war underneath the Cenotaph.

     One of the animal rights campaigners, Adrian Appley, 65, from Bromley in Kent, who contributes financially to the work of the Animal Liberation Front, said: “The way in which we were treated was disgraceful. The police pulled us over by claiming that coach was not roadworthy but it rapidly became clear that they did not want to let us reach the protest.

     “At first we were told that we could demonstrate for half an hour. But 10 minutes later we were all told to get back on the coach and anyone refusing to do so would be arrested. The police started filming everyone on board the coach and when one of our group tried to get off he was forcibly prevented from doing so.

     “We were then escorted all the way back up the motorway to London and told that we could not turn off the motorway at any point for water or toilet breaks on one of the hottest days of the year. It was a ridiculous situation – most of us were middle-aged or elderly and we had all come to exercise our democratic right to stage a peaceful protest.”