February 26, 2012
10/11 - CRACKDOWN ON
ANTI-CORPORATE DISSENT: THE ANIMAL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
During the past
three years, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have launched a
new campaign against anti-corporate animal rights campaigns across the
country. The crackdown has lead to the imprisonment of activists linked to
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) for a total of 50 years and the
jailing of Sean Kirtley, who was linked to the Stop Sequani Animal Torture
Campaign (SSAT), for four and a half years. The sentences, the charges and
the nature of the prosecutions have all been political. Public opposition to
the crackdown has been confounded by a media smokescreen thrown up by the
press releases churned out by the National Extremism Tactical Coordination
Unit (NETCU), portraying activists as 'extremists' and disseminating
misinformation. Many of those jailed have not committed any conventional
crime but have been targeted by new legislation intended to counter the
threat posed to the pharmaceutical industry by effective direct action.
The role of NETCU
The National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit
was set up partly as a replacement for the Animal Rights National Index
(ARNI). The creation of NETCU came at the same time as a realisation by the
police that the small, autonomous direct actions against companies involved
in vivisection in 1980s and 90s were being replaced by mass campaigns such
as the campaign to shut down the Hillgrove cat breeders and, later, Stop
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).
NETCU monitors the policing of
animal rights campaigns and other political movements, often focused
anti-corporate campaigns; follows prosecutions through courts and cultivates
informants. One of NETCU's most important roles, however, is the undermining
of campaigns through partisan use of the media and support for groups
presenting counter arguments to the dissenters NETCU is targeting. For
instance, the NETCU website hosted links to the pro-vivisection Research
Defense Society and articles praising PROtest. NETCU is also one of the
least transparent of all UK police departments and shrug off all requests
for information about the work of the unit. The political nature of NETCU's
work is illustrated by several press releases boasting of activists being
prevented from doing street collections and leafletting (see, for example,
'Animal rights campaign refused permission to hold street collections in
Sunderland' at www.netcu.org.uk/media/article.jsp?id=280 ).
'All effective campaigns that have tried to change the world
have suffered severe repression at the hands of the state. If the state isn't interested, then you're not being effective.' - Sean Kirtley
amendment to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) in 2005 made
it illegal to 'interfere with the contractual relations of an animal
research organisation' or to 'intimidate' employees of an animal research organisation. One of the people consulted during the drafting of the act was
the CEO of Sequani labs in Ledbury, Herefordshire. The labs had been the
subject of protests due to their involvement in animal testing.
9th May 2006, coordinated dawn raids took place at various homes around the
Midlands. The massive police operation, dubbed 'Tornado', was given
up-to-the-minute coverage on the news section of the NETCU website.
Computers and mobile phones were seized as well as items like a plastic
witch's nose that were later exhibited in court. Twelve people were charged
under SOCPA. In the trial of the first seven defendants, in January and
February 2008, the prosecution alleged that the events at 16 demonstrations
against Sequani and related companies amounted to an 'interference with the
contractual relations' of Sequani. The incidents related to words spoken
(allegedly offensive), acts of trespass and the sending of a repeating fax
message to block up company fax machines. All of these charges are minor and
would be extremely unlikely to carry a prison sentence. However, when they
form an element of a SOCPA offence, they can carry up to five years in
The 18-week-long trial, subject to a media-gagging order
imposed by the judge, examined reams of computer and mobile phone evidence.
The prosecution produced an 'expert analyst' who examined the network of
phone calls between the defendants and presented them as evidence that they
were organising demonstrations. The very act of planning to demonstrate
against Sequani was portrayed as illegal. The prosecution identified what
they presented as a 'hierarchy' in the SSAT campaign and portrayed certain
defendants, including Sean Kirtley, as the 'leaders'. Much was made of the
fact that Sean Kirtley's computer showed that he had updated the SSAT
website. SMS messages and emails downloaded to computers, through email
clients like Thunderbird or Outlook, were read out in court.
defendants were accused of essentially amounted to nothing more than a
public, legal protest campaign. Nothing the average person would perceive as
illegal occurred. No acts of direct action were relied upon by the
prosecution and no physical damage had been done to Sequani or any other
company (except for one window broken by accident).
The trial at
Coventry Crown Court took its toll on the defendants. According to Sean
Kirtley, defendants suffered 'mental and physical exhaustion, nightmares and
disturbed sleep' as a result of the stress. Wendy Campbell told Corporate
Watch, 'It nearly killed me but I was innocent, so I stood my ground.'
All defendants apart from Kirtley were acquitted. The judge, a
game-shooter, remanded Kirtley and later sentenced him to four and a half
years imprisonment and a five-year CRASBO on release, which is an
anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) imposed by a criminal court.
let us look for a moment at the specific charges against Kirtley. He was not
directly accused of using offensive language: the prosecution admitted he
was mostly silent at demonstrations. Nor was he accused of sending
disruptive faxes. The only charges against him were of allegedly 'organising'
demonstrations through phone calls and emails and updating the SSAT website.
The SSAT website was not offensive and did not even advertise the
demonstrations at Sequani. It merely discussed animal abuse by Sequani and
listed companies doing business with it. It also encouraged readers to
engage, politely, with these companies and not break the law. SSAT was also
a general animal rights resource with information about the fur and dairy
trades and anti-foie gras campaigns.
Thus, Sean Kirtley, perhaps more
than any other prisoner in the UK at the moment, is a political prisoner
punished for nothing but exercising his right to freedom of expression and
right to protest.
The SHAC Seven
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
(SHAC) is perhaps the most ambitious and most effective anti-corporate
campaign against vivisection in the world. Its aim is to close Huntingdon
Life Sciences (HLS), Europe's largest animal testing laboratory. In its
attempts to do so, it has aimed to persuade companies to desist from
investing in, supplying or providing services to HLS. This tactic recognises
that corporations cannot do business in a vacuum but rely on other companies
to provide a network of services to them.
In May 2007, police
arrested 32 people in raids dubbed 'Operation Achilles'. Since then, 15
people have been charged with 'conspiracy to blackmail' and are being tried
in two separate cases, of which the trial of the 'SHAC 7' was the first.
The charges related to six years of campaigning against HLS, which the
prosecution claimed was 'blackmail'. Blackmail is defined as 'making an
unwarranted demand with menaces.' The alleged blackmail in the three and a
half month long trial at Winchester Crown Court takes a little bit of
creative thinking to understand. SHAC, in which all seven on trial were
allegedly active, published publicly available company details of customers,
investors and other companies doing business with HLS. SHAC supporters were
encouraged to write to them or protest against them in the hope that they
would cease trading with HLS. SHAC always added a caveat that actions should
remain within the law. In fact, SHAC went to such lengths to remain within
the law that Natasha Avery, one of the defendants, entered into long
correspondences with the police over SHAC-related demonstrations, even
praising the policing of some as even-handed.
Throughout the history
of the SHAC campaign, autonomous direct actions, often under the banner of
the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), have taken place against HLS, secondary
and tertiary companies and their employees. Cars have been paint-strippered,
company property damaged and letters threatening more damage have been sent
to company offices and, sometimes, to directors' homes. Hoax bombs have been
sent and, on one occasion, an incendiary device was placed at the home of a
company director of a related company. These actions are not alleged to have
been carried out by SHAC. However, during the trial a spreadsheet, allegedly
pieced together from fragments of a document linked to a computer in the
house where the SHAC office was based, was produced. The spreadsheet
detailed actions against HLS, including the sending of letters accusing
directors of being paedophiles and damage to cars, giving the place and the
date when the actions occurred. The prosecution alleged that other documents
recovered from computers provided tenuous links between some defendants and
Thus, the alleged 'unwarranted demand' was what SHAC
had asked companies: to sever links with HLS. The supposed threat, or
'menace', was that of direct action carried out by others. The existence of
some evidence, albeit weak, of links between some of the people on trial and
direct action was an added extra for the prosecution.
complication was that three people had pleaded guilty. A SHAC statement said
that this was because they 'could not hope for a fair trial' and that the
government 'had a political will to find them guilty of something.' However,
this effectively meant that it was accepted that blackmail had occurred,
although the other five defendants denied conspiracy. The trial, therefore,
was about how much the remaining defendants could be linked to this
'blackmail'. Much of the evidence, including the aforementioned spreadsheet,
could not be challenged as the defendants who pleaded guilty were not
Although it was technically accepted that blackmail
had occurred, the prosecution never specified the exact nature of the
blackmail. At its highest, the prosecution case linked most defendants to
direct action through the computer evidence. However, the evidence of such a
link was tenuous to non-existent. Failing that, the prosecution essentially
argued that SHAC operated legally but gave tacit support to direct action.
In some cases, particularly where activists had not been involved in SHAC
for long and could not be painted as organisers, the prosecution argued that
words they had said on demonstrations, ranging from threats to articulate
speeches about the need to end vivisection, were evidence of 'conspiracy to
blackmail'. The judge even instructed the jury that simply being on
demonstrations where threatening statements were uttered could be evidence
of 'conspiracy to blackmail'.
When the jury found 7 out of the 8
defendants guilty, it remained unclear which one of the prosecution's many
definitions of the charges they accepted. It may be that they were simply
influenced by the media storm whipped up by NETCU press officers or the
wealth of irrelevant allusions to actions not carried out by the defendants,
such as the theft of the body of Gladys Hammond in the completely separate
campaign against Darley Oaks Guinea pig farm. It is evident that the
defendants were convicted, to a large extent, through guilt by association
with the actions of others.
At the three-day-long sentencing in
January 2009, Judge Butterfield sentenced the defendants according to how he
saw them in the supposed hierarchy of the SHAC campaign, not according to
the evidence against them. Thus, Greg and Natasha Avery were given the
heaviest sentences possible but were given credit for their guilty pleas and
sentenced to serve nine years each. Heather Nicholson, who plead not guilty,
received the longest actual sentence, eleven years. Gavin Medd Hall was
sentenced to eight years; Daniel Wadham, five years; and Daniel Amos and
Gerrah Selby were each sentenced to four years.
So what does this
mean for free speech and anti-corporate dissent in the UK? By the same
logic, an anti-war campaign that publishes information on the whereabouts of
a military base or arms factory and calls for its closure could be put in
the frame for the same crime if that base was then the subject of an arson
attack. All it takes is for the police to imply that the people running the
public campaign are linked to those involved in direct action. Consequently,
campaigners might feel compelled to publicly distance themselves from acts
of direct action lest they find that, unbeknown to them, those involved in
public action are responsible for the covert actions too and the whole
movement is charged with 'conspiracy'. In fact, the use of such charges is a
classic police tactic aimed at spreading paranoia and convicting as many
activists as possible for acts carried out by a few anonymous people. The
other aim is to minimise public support for 'illegal' actions by harassing
and criminalising those who speak up in solidarity.
For more on the
crackdown on animal rights activists, see:
How the State Protects
Corporations From Dissent
Civil liberties are under threat in the UK.
Successive governments are introducing an increasing amount of repressive
pieces of legislation which curtail the rights of the individual.
This new legislation has been, and will be, used to protect corporations
against dissenting voices.
The Attack on the Animal Rights Movement
The state and the police force, primarily the National Extremism
Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), have been waging a media war against the
animal rights movement. This media smokescreen helps to prevent the
of public opinion in solidarity with campaigners targeted
with repressive legislation.
The project analyses the way in which
these new laws put the interests of business over and above individuals
rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Over the years animal rights
campaigners have begun to seriously challenge companies involved in animal
research. The state has developed
new branches of the police force (ARNI
and NETCU) to deal with this challenge to corporate power. Measures have
been taken to prop up companies who are facing dissent, including the
passing of legislation allowing companies to opt out of publishing data and
the granting of Bank of England facilities to Huntingdon Life Sciences
The Corporate Individual
This work follows on from our
work on corporate law. In 2004 Corporate Watch published the 'Corporate Law
and Structures' report. This report critically examined the way in which
corporations had developed rights in law. Today the law provides companies
with protection originally intended
for human beings yet frees them from
many of the liabilities individuals face. Corporate Watch's planned research
will examine the development of the 'corporate person' in criminal and civil
law and its relation to the crackdown on campaigners. For example, the
Protection from Harassment Act
has developed the concept that a company
can be 'harassed'.
Protecting power: Police
press ahead with political prosecution of 26 of the Ratcliffe 114
Animal Rights activist convicted as CPS stretch definition of blackmail
Sean Kirtley freed after sixteen months in prison
Domestic Extremism Team issues bail conditions designed to prevent protest
Netcu: Seriously Organised?
Corporate Injunction Experts
How the state protects corporations from dissent: Jailed SHAC activists
receive indefinite ASBOs
State repression of Anti-Corporate Dissent:
Animal right activists convicted of 'conspiracy to blackmail'
director granted confidentiality after receiving a polite letter
Whose agenda do reports of 'eco-terrorism' serve?