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British Police deny free speech to ARA activists


guardian.co.uk/animalrights
British Police deny free speech to ARA activists calling activists 'terrorists'

-- Police claim proceeds pay for criminal actions
-- Activists allege dirty tricks campaign against them

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent
February 22, 2007
The Guardian

Lucrative street stalls run by animal rights activists have been closed down by Scotland Yard in an operation targeting what police say is illegal fundraising to pay for the criminal actions of extremists.

Police believe the stalls, which operate in wealthy areas of London such as Knightsbridge and Sloane Square, as well as on Oxford Street, raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for campaigns like Stop Huntingdon Life Sciences (Shac), which is attempting to close down the animal testing company, and Speak, which is campaigning to stop a new �20m animal research laboratory being built at Oxford University.

Police estimate from the daily takings of two stalls on Oxford Street, which both contained Shac literature, that they alone collected about �80,000 a year for animal rights activities. Officers began targeting the stalls six months ago as part of a clampdown on animal rights extremists. Police say the activists draw the public in by asking them to sign petitions, and then ask for donations. Officers say the petitions are never sent anywhere and several had been found at the homes of activists.

Scotland Yard received special funding from the Home Office for the investigation, which allegedly found that the money collections were illegal as none of the stalls were licensed by the local authority concerned and the groups involved failed to keep accounts. Scotland Yard claims that many of the organisations the stallholders collect money for are well-known animal rights activists organisations linked to criminality throughout the UK.

But leading figures within the animal liberation movement accused the police of "dirty tricks" yesterday. They demanded proof that the money raised was used for criminal activity and condemned what they said was a government-inspired campaign to repress legitimate public debate on animal testing.

Police began arresting people on the street stalls last year. In October those manning Shac's Oxford Street stall were held. A source within the National Extremist Crime Unit, which has been coordinating police investigations into the criminal activity of members of the Animal Liberation Front, said there were proven cases of money raised through stalls being directly used to pay for criminal activity. He highlighted the case of Sarah Gisborne, 39, from Cranleigh, Surrey, who was jailed for six years in 2005 by Peterborough crown court for conspiracy to cause criminal damage as part of the Shac campaign.

Gisborne caused �400,000 of damage to cars belonging to people linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences. She drove to her targets in a car hired in Cambridgeshire, which was paid for, police say, by money from the Shac stalls.

The inquiry into illegal fundraising is part of a wider move, supported by the government, to examine the finances of animal rights groups involved in the high profile campaigns against HLS and Oxford University. Ministers have determined that the new animal testing laboratory at Oxford will be completed, after action from activists two years ago caused the main contractor to pull out. The work continues with a new contractor operating behind 12ft high fences.

Greg Avery, a Shac activist, regularly manned the Oxford Street stall, where anti vivisection literature was available as well as a petition against animal testing.

He denied Gisborne had used money from a Shac stall to fund her campaign. He said yesterday that police tactics were politically motivated and demanded they produce evidence that money collected from the stalls was used for criminal activities. "Of course we raise money on the stalls. People know exactly who they are giving money to. They support Shac and our objectives. This is a dirty tricks campaign. They have no evidence the money is used for criminal activities."

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