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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/23/09

Presence of Malice: UK Activists v. Lee Hall

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What REALLY Happened in the Churchyard

Steve Best and Jason Miller with Joan Court, Janet Tomlinson, and Lynn Sawyer

I. Background

Anyone who follows the animal rights movement in England knows that the direct action element has become increasingly powerful and controversial. By abandoning what they see to be futile efforts to persuade a government beholden to corporate interests and speciesist ideology to respect the rights of animals, a growing number of activists have taken the fight directly to the animal exploiters themselves. Over the last few decades, groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), SPEAK (originally named Stop Primate Experiments at Cambridge), and Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs (SNGP) have developed highly effective campaigns against all facets of the vivisection industry. While the ALF is an underground network of activists engaged in “criminal” actions involving sabotage, arson, and break-ins, other direct action groups such as SHAC and SPEAK are aboveground organizations and employ legal approaches.

Whereas campaigns against factory farming dominate animal advocacy in the US, in England a major activist focus is on vivisection. In the last decade, animal rights activists have mounted intense protests against the vivisection industry, attacking it in the countryside and cities, village farms and university laboratories alike. In the last decade, animal liberationists have closed down numerous vivisection breeders and thwarted plans for major experiment labs at Cambridge and Oxford universities. Militant anti-vivisectionists have captured the social spotlight and pose a serious threat to an industry of huge economic importance.

The militant direct action (MDA) element emerged in the 1960s with hunt saboteur groups who used various tactics to confuse hunting dogs and place themselves in the path between the hunters and the hunted. In 1974, the Band of Mercy emerged as a more militant sabotage-oriented movement that attacked hunting and vivisection until its leaders Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman were captured and jailed for a year. Goodman turned police informer, but in 1976, after his release, Ronnie Lee began a new and more militant underground organization, aptly named the Animal Liberation Front (see Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, “Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals”).

A New Wave of MDA

A second wave of direct action began with attacks on vivisection suppliers in England. In September 1996, activists began a campaign against Consort Kennels, a major dog breeder for vivisection labs. After months of applying intense pressure, they closed the kennel in July 1997 and adopted 170 beagles to loving homes. In a September 1999, victory, activists targeted Hillgrove Farm which bred cats for experimentation. The same tactics proved effective and Hillgrove closed in August 1999. Over 800 cats were rescued and re-homed. In 2000, activists suit down Shamrock Monkey Farm and Regal Rabbits (rescuing over 1000 rabbits).

Emboldened by the effectiveness of the new direct action approach, Greg Avery and Heather James founded SHAC in 1999. SHACtivists in the UK, US, and elsewhere have waged an aggressive direct action campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), an insidious animal testing company notorious for extreme animal abuse (torturing and killing 500 animals a day) and manipulated research data. SHAC combines a shrewd knowledge of the law, no nonsense direct action tactics, and a singular focus on one corporation that represents the evils of the entire vivisection industry.

For 30 years, the Chris and John Hall family living in the Staffordshire village of Newchurch has bred guinea pigs for animal research. One of their favored clients was HLS, where the animals were used to test sweeteners. Guinea pigs bred by the Halls also were used to test breast implant materials and had industrial cleaning chemicals applied to their backs in a Scottish contract research lab. Various universities tested their nerve response to painful stimuli and forced them to breathe noxious chemicals for prolonged periods of time. Government institutions conducted brain experiments on them. In a September 6, 1999 raid, the ALF rescued 600 guinea pigs and documented the squalid conditions in which the animals lived, in cramped cages littered with the partially eaten bodies of dead and dying babies. The horrors revealed inside the Halls’ sheds provoked widespread disgust and anger, and spawned groups such as Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs (SNGP) which were dedicated to one goal – shutting down the Darley Oaks breeding farm.

Since 1999, activists protested outside the farm every week. As ever more guinea pigs were bred for torture and death, anonymous activists turned up the heat and deployed tactics of harassment, including hate mail, death threats, bomb hoaxes, excrement packages, cutting telephone lines, bricks thrown through windows and other forms of property destruction, arson, character assassination, and detonating explosive devices placed near employee homes on four occasions. Activists also adopted SHAC tactics of targeting suppliers, forcing many to sever ties with the Hall family. To pressure others to treat them as lepers, they vandalized the golf course the Halls played on and threatened the owner of the Red Lion pub with an arson attack if he continued to serve them spirits. The elderly woman who supplied them with diesel and heating fuel eventually stopped delivering to them. A contractor who harvested corn on their farm quit when saboteurs planted metal rods in the ground to destroy his combine harvester. After the tanker firm that collected their milk had its vehicles attacked, the Halls had to sell their dairy herd and close their turkey farm. Even newspaper deliverers were threatened with actions should they continue to cater to the Halls in any manner.

Buoyed by support from Tony Blair and other members of government, the Hall family vowed not to give in to the activists. In its zealous effort to protect the profits of the vivisection and pharmaceutical industries, the British state has demonized animal rights activists as “criminals” and “terrorists.” The Home Office barred prominent US activists from ever again entering the UK as they went to work criminalizing homegrown effective activism. Since 9/11 and the 7/7 bombing, the government drafted increasingly repressive legislation to stop legal forms of protest and rights to free speech, drafting into law measures such as the Public Order Act, the Anti-Social Behavior Orders, the Protection from Harassment Act, the Malicious Communications Act, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, and the Anti-Terrorism and Security Act.

Due to these sundry laws and numerous injunctions, aboveground activists found that they were told where they could protest, for how long, with how many people, and what they could and could not say. Home demonstrations were prohibited, and the state placed increasingly severe restrictions on activist use of Internet sites, as those arrested for the crime of MDA have received hefty jail sentences. As just one of numerous unfortunate examples, in March 2008 the government slapped the founders of SHAC UK with ten year prison sentences.

Mystery of the Grave Robbers

The struggle was carried to a macabre new level when in October 2004 unknown activists -- or perhaps even the police manufacturing an excuse to further demonize and repress the MDA movement -- raided the grave of Gladys Hammond, Chris Hall’s mother-in-law and stole most of her remains. The act was condemned as sick, depraved, and despicable by church, police, and some of the public, although of course no one mentioned the exploitation of guinea pigs as all of these things and more. In his statement to the BBC News, a rattled John Hall said: “We are not monsters and none of our staff are monsters, we are just ordinary people doing a job that some people don’t like.”

If the Halls are “just ordinary” people, God help us all. In a second act of brazen hypocrisy, the first of course being to perpetuate barbaric treatment of animals in the name of civilization, John Hall said in a Swedish newspaper interview, "If I could only shoot off about thirty of them it would probably be calm after that … If I could kill a hundred of them, I would be guaranteed to get rid of the problem." Hall’s statement is far more menacing than anything said by Dr. Jerry Vlasak, the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO) representative who has been universally condemned in the media for stating the logical truth that killing vivisectors would affect the vivisection industry. And if a UK animal activist made such a statement, he or she would likely be jailed for it.

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Jason Miller, Senior Editor and Founder of TPC, is a tenacious forty something vegan straight edge activist who lives in Kansas and who has a boundless passion for animal liberation and anti-capitalism. Addicted to reading and learning, he is mostly (more...)
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