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A legal challenge has been served on a local council over its decision to suspend live animal exports through a port, it has been revealed.
Thanet District Council in Kent has received notice of an application for a judicial review after it temporarily banned live exports through Ramsgate last month.
The suspension was introduced after 42 sheep which arrived at the port in a lorry unfit for transporting live animals had to be put down due to their lameness. A further two drowned and two suffered broken legs.
The deaths occurred after the RSPCA provided a report to the council in the summer highlighting the port's inadequate facilities and warning of severe problems with animals in an emergency.
A letter co-written by leading council members was then sent to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson making requests, including an urgent establishment of a livestock resting facility in Kent.
The local authority said the suspension would be lifted if suitable facilities could be built within the port and whether it deemed it a priority compared with other issues.
Following the suspension at Ramsgate, the operation moved to Ipswich but the port's owners also halted exports amid concerns about suitable facilities there.
Today, Thanet District Council declined to name those behind the legal challenge but said it intends to mount a "vigorous defence''.
In a statement, the local authority said: "Thanet District Council has been served with legal proceedings which challenge its decision to suspend live animal movements from the Port of Ramsgate.''
It said the challenge aimed to overturn its decision and sought damages for breach of European law.
It also sought an interim order requiring the council to reopen the port for live animal movements pending the outcome of the judicial review application.
The council added: "The council has received the advice of a leading counsel that its actions in imposing a temporary live animal export ban at Ramsgate are lawful.
"It therefore intends to mount a vigorous defence of its actions.''
On Friday, supporters from Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA will hand in a petition to Defra urging ministers not to issue any more licences for live transport until legislation on journey times and port facilities is enforced.
Protests had been held at the Port of Ramsgate before the suspension, reviving memories of clashes in the 1990s when Britain was one of Europe's biggest live exporters.
Actress Joanna Lumley joined calls for an end to the "abhorrent'' trade, saying it was "unbelievable'' that Britain was still sending young animals on exhausting journeys to the Continent.
But in defence of the controls in place, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said that journeys of more than eight hours made up a very small minority of movements.
And it said the protection of animals during transport has improved considerably in recent years and current regulations do not compromise animal welfare.