Thirty Years of Direct Action
from No Compromise Issue 18
It is hard, if not impossible, to say
when the Animal/Earth Liberation movement first started. A
study of the subject literally takes you back thousands of
years to 200 B.C. when people like Pythagoras advocated
vegetarianism & animal compassion on spiritual grounds,
and to the 1st century A.D. when Plutarch wrote what is widely
regarded as the first animal rights literature.
However, the reader will be delighted to know
that I am not going to bore you to death with 2000 years of
waffle. Instead, I merely intend to look at what occurred 30
years ago this year. But first, to fully understand the events
of 30 years ago, we must look slightly further back
than that, to the events of 1964.
During the 19th and 20th centuries Britain saw a wealth of
Animal Welfare and Rights groups established. However, these
groups by and large relied upon the parliamentary way of legal
reform to achieve their aims. This process was incredibly slow
and achievements were minor. Even the 1911 Animal Protection
Act treated animals as property and offered no protection to
wild-born creatures. By the mid-nineteen sixties people
started to look around for other ways of campaigning and in
1964 John Prestidge found that new style.
In 1964 in Brixham, Devon, England, John Prestidge founded
a group that would actively oppose blood sports. Rather than
campaigning for parliamentary reforms, John's new group was
prepared to directly go out into the fields of Britain and do
everything they could, within the law, to prevent the killing
of British wildlife: John founded the Hunt Saboteurs
The popularity of this new form of campaigning was instant.
Just a year after the H.S.A. was founded, hunt saboteur groups
were active across the English Westcountry in Devon, Somerset
and Bristol. Groups also started to emerge outside of the
Westcountry in places like Birmingham, Hampshire and Surrey.
Originally a single Devon-based group, the H.S.A. soon
became a national network of dedicated activists using lawful
methods to disrupt blood-junkies of Britain and to prevent the
"green and pleasant lands" from literally becoming the killing
And so it was, in 1971, as part of the
ever-expanding H.S.A. network, a new hunt sab group was formed
in Luton. The group was founded by a law student named Ronnie
Lee. The Luton hunt sabs, like a lot of other hunt sab groups,
soon became very successful in saving the lives of animals.
Many a hunt soon found their sadistic days entertainment
ruined by the Luton Gang.
However, despite the success of the Luton hunt sabs in the
field, it soon became apparent to some people within the
groups that the strictly legal actions of the H.S.A. could
only ever go so far to preventing animal suffering. The
problem was that if a hunt is allowed to be active, no matter
how good a hunt sab group may be, there is a chance that an
animal may be harmed or killed.
Even if the sabs do manage to prevent an animal from being
killed, the fear the animal goes through whilst being hunted
is tremendous. Contemporary vet reports, gathered at the end
of the 20th century, have revealed animals do suffer
incredible stress whilst being hunted.
It was out of this recognition (that strictly legal hunt
sabotage couldn't totally prevent the suffering of an animal)
that Ronnie Lee and a few close friends started to look around
for other ways to help prevent suffering. They realized that
the only real way to prevent any sort of suffering is to
assure that the hunt is never allowed to become active in the
first place. As soon as an animal is being chased, she is
psychologically suffering as she fears for her life. Therefore
she has to be assured that 'the chase' is never allowed to
start in the first place. With this aim in mind, Ronnie Lee,
Cliff Goodman and possibly two or three other people, decided
to form the Band of Mercy in 1972.
The name the Band of Mercy was chosen because it had been
the name of an earlier animal liberation direct action group.
During the 19th century, an anti-slavery activist named
Catherine Smithies had set up a youth wing to the RSPCA called
the Bands of Mercy. By and large these youth groups were just
normal young supporters of the RSPCA who told stories of
heroic animal deeds and who took oaths of compassion to the
animals. However some of these young Victorian animal rights
activists were a little more zealous than others and went
around sabotaging hunting riffles. The activities of the
Victorian Bands of Mercy became so great that there was even a
theatrical play written during which a group of children
sabotages a hunting riffle.
For Ronnie Lee and his companions the Victorian Bands of
Mercy were a fine example of direct action, so they decided to
adopt their not-strictly-legal approach to saving lives.
Initially, the Band of Mercy concentrated on small actions
directed against the hunt during the cub- hunting season. Cub
hunting is when young hounds are taught to tear young fox cubs
apart in order for the hound to get the taste for killing.
The initial actions of the Band of Mercy were very simple
and were basically designed around the idea of disabling the
hunt vehicles in order to slow down or even stop the hunt from
carrying out its murderous activities.
However, the Band of Mercy was very clear from the
beginning that it was not merely carrying out acts of wanton
vandalism against those whom they opposed but instead their
actions were designed around the idea of 'active compassion'.
To this aim the Band would always leave a message to the
hunters explaining why the Band had carried out their actions,
the logic of animal liberation and to show that there was
nothing personal against any one individual person.
The success of the Band of Mercy was soon clear. By
carrying out illegal direct action, the Band was able to
prevent the hunts. By preventing the hunts from ever becoming
active, the Band was safe in the knowledge that not only have
they saved the lives of innocent animals, but they had also
prevented the psychological suffering of 'the chase'.
Recognizing their true potential for the prevention of
animal suffering, the Band then started to think about ways to
expand and develop their campaigns. Following on from their
early successes the Band soon became much more daring. Towards
the end of 1973, the Band learnt about the construction of a
new vivisection laboratory. The research laboratory was being
built near Milton Keynes for a company called Hoechst
Having learnt about its existence, two of the Band's
activists visited the vivisection lab building sight a few
times whilst trying to decide the best course of action to be
taken. Together these activists realized that if they could
prevent the building from ever being completed, then they
could prevent the suffering of animals destined to be tortured
within its four walls. The Band had to assure the construction
could never be finished and eventually decided that the best
way to destroy the construction was through the use of arson.
By destroying the building, the Band would prevent the
vivisectors from ever being able to start their brand of
sadistic 'science'. And even if the damage caused by the fire
could be repaired, the restoration work would all cost money
that would have to be paid for by Hoechst Pharmaceutical (thus
meaning less money to spend on torturing animals).
On November 10th, 1973, the Band of Mercy conducted its
first ever action against the vivisection industry. Two
activists gained access into the half completed building at
Milton Keynes. Once inside the activists set fire to the
building. This action was a double watershed for the movement
as it was not only the Band’s first action against the
vivisection industry; it was also the Band’s first use to
In that first fire an amazing 26,000 pounds worth of damage was
caused. More incredible was six days later, the Band of Mercy
returned and started another fire in the same building causing
a further 20,000 pounds damage.
To make sure everyone knew why the building was set alight,
the Band of Mercy sent a message to the press. The statement
"The building was set fire to in an effort to prevent the
torture and murder of our animal brothers and sisters by evil
experiments. We are a non-violent guerrilla organization
dedicated to the liberation of animals from all forms of
cruelty and persecution at the hands of mankind. Our actions
will continue until our aims are achieved".
After the Milton Keynes arson, the next major action
occurred in June 1974 when the Band turned its attention to
the bloody seal cull of the Wash along the Norfolk coast.
The seal cull was an annual event and involved hunters
going out in two Home Office licensed boats and butchering
seals. Seal culling is a bloody attack and the seal has no
hope of escape. Knowing how sick the seal cull is the Band
obviously wanted to prevent the cull from ever starting. With
the goal of preventing the cull from ever starting and
regarding the success in the use of arson in the November 1973
action, the Band once again decided to use arson as a campaign
tool to destroy the tools of animal murder.
In June 1974 the Band of Mercy set out their second major
action. Under the cover of darkness, two activists sought out
the Home Office licensed boats. Having found the boats, these
transporters of death were then set alight. One of the boats
was sadly only slightly damaged by the fire; the other
however, was totally destroyed.
After conducting this June 1974 action, the Band of Mercy
decided that this time they wouldn't leave a message claiming
responsibility. Instead they wanted to leave the sealers
wondering what on earth had happened, if those responsible
would return and if someone else provided two new boats, if
these new vessels would meet with the same fiery fate.
That year there was no seal cull at all due to the actions
of the Band of Mercy. Also, besides totally halting the seal
cull for that year, there was another knock on effect. Because
of the fire, the owner of the two Home Office licensed boats
went out of business. And having seen one person’s business
totally destroyed by the actions of these anonymous arsonists,
no one was keen to invest the money into a new business that
might very well go the same way. Because of this fear no one
has ever attempted to re-start a seal culling business and
there has never been a seal cull at the Wash since. Because of
the actions of two activists, countless numbers of seals have
been saved from the bloody annual seal cull.
Looking back on the June 1974 action it is clear for
everyone to see that what happened was an amazing success. Not
only were de facto seals saved at the time, but generations of
seals to come have also been saved from the seal cullers.
Sadly, however, despite the fact the Band of Mercy was saving
lives and preventing suffering, not everyone in the animal
liberation movement approved of their tactics.
In July 1974 a member of the Hunt Saboteurs Association
offered a reward of �250 for information that would inform
upon the Band of Mercy. Speaking on behalf of the local sab
group the person represented, the spokesperson told the press,
"We approve of their ideals, but are opposed to their
How anyone can say they approve of a person’s ideals and
then side against them by offering a reward for their capture
is a total mystery. Fortunately, despite this act of
treachery, the Band of Mercy had by now realized its power. By
performing illegal actions the Band was able to directly save
the lives of animals by destroying the tool of torture and
death. Even if the weaker members of the movement rejected the
Band’s ideas, the Band realized its work had to continue. To
stop would be to let the animals down.
Following the anti-seal action the Band of Mercy then
launched its first intensive wave of campaigning against the
vivisection industry. In the months leading up to the action
at the Wash, the Band of Mercy had been able to gather some
inside information about vivisection laboratory animal
suppliers. All of this information was gathered and stored,
waiting for the day it could be used to its fullest effect.
And so it was, that following the action at the Wash, the Band
was able to launch straight into a wave of actions against the
Between June and August 1974 the Band of Mercy launched
eight raids against vivisection lab animal suppliers. The main
emphasis of the actions was to cause economic sabotage by
either damaging buildings or vehicles. But the Band also
reached another landmark in their history by carrying out
their first-ever animal rescue during this period.
The first Band of Mercy animal rescue happened in Wiltshire
in the English Westcountry. A guinea pig farm was targeted and
the activists managed to rescue half a dozen of the inmates.
Besides being a landmark action for being the first Band of
Mercy animal rescue, the action also produced an unexpected
but very welcome outcome. The guinea pig farm owner was so
shaken by the raid she began to fear that more activists would
turn up during the night. With such a fear of the masked
strangers breaking into her home, this uncaring capitalist who
profited from animal torture took the only course of sensible
action she closed her business.
Besides targeting the vivisection industry, the Band of
Mercy also continued to take actions against the hunt. But not
wanting to limit their actions to just two forms of animal
abuse, the Band also targeted chicken breeders and the firearm
lobby. In July 1974, a gun shop in Marlborough was attacked
and damaged. The original Victorian Bands of Mercy could
surely be proud that their great deeds were being continued in
a twentieth-century form.
For a small group of friends, consisting of less than half
a dozen activists, the Band of Mercy was able to make a
tremendous impact against the animal abusers and their
presence was truly feint. Sadly, however, the Band of Mercy's
luck ran out in August 1974.
In August 1974 the Band of Mercy targeted Oxford Laboratory
Animal Colonies in Bicester. The first action was a success.
But then the Band of Mercy made the mistake of returning to
O.L.A.C. two days late (I should point out its very easy with
hindsight to say it was a mistake to return, but back then it
was a perfectly logical action). It was on this second raid
the activists, Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman, were spotted by a
security guard. After being spotted the police were called and
Ronnie and Cliff were promptly arrested.
If the police had hoped that the arrests would bring an end
to the Band of Mercy, they were very mistaken. The arrest of
Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman gave a fresh wave of publicity to
the Band of Mercy. Rather than being regarded as terrorists,
many people viewed the Band as heroes. These two young men
were seen as a sort of latter day Robin Hood for the animals.
Ronnie and Cliff were soon canonized as the Bicester Two.
Throughout the hearing daily demonstrations took place outside
the court. Support for the Bicester Two was very strong and
came from the most unlikely of quarters. Even Ronnie Lee's
local Member of Parliament, a Church of England vicar Ivor
Clemitson*, joined in the campaign for their release.
Despite the strong public support for the Bicester Two,
both Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman were given three years
imprisonment. A letter published in the Daily Telegraph shows
the anger felt at the outcome of the first animal liberation
"Many would sympathize with their action against the
utterly diabolical and largely unnecessary form of cruelty
involved in animal experimentation. These young men, while
defying the law, showed great courage, and the sentences of
three years imprisonment seems unrealistic and harsh."
Now, it is said you can't keep a good Animal/Earth
liberation activist down. This is certainly true in the case
of Ronnie Lee. After the sentencing, Ronnie and Cliff split
up. Ronnie was moved to Winchester prison and Cliff went back
to Oxford prison (whilst on remand both Ronnie and Cliff were
inmates of Oxford prison).
At Winchester prison Ronnie discovered that provisions for
vegans in prison were less than desirable. So once at
Winchester, to try and assure a decent meal and proper vegan
clothing Ronnie went on a hunger strike. This hunger strike
gained a great deal of media attention and once again the
issue of animal liberation was being openly discussed. With
the spotlight once again being focused on animal liberation
Ronnie soon expanded his hunger strike demands to include
issues revolving around Porton Down, the Government's chemical
and biological warfare research station, where horrific animal
experimentation goes on.
The media focus about the hunger strike was spectacular.
With all the much-unwanted attention, Winchester prison soon
had to back down and supply Ronnie with his vegan provisions.
Sadly the same outcome did not occur for Porton Down. In
tactical manipulation to assure the media spotlight did not
cause the Ministry of Defense any embarrassment, all of the
media attention was focused on Ronnie himself, even though it
wasn't what he wanted. So it was, that in recognition that the
media was moving the debate from animal abuse and onto the
hunger strike, Ronnie decided to end his protest.
Sadly, despite Ronnie setting such a good example whilst in
prison, the other activists in the Band of Mercy brought the
Band to an almost grinding halt whilst the Bicester Two were
jailed. The only major event to take place during the time of
the Bicester Two's imprisonment was in 1975.
In 1975 Mike Huskisson managed to rescue two beagles from
I.C.I. The beagles were being used in tobacco smoking
experiments and were appropriately labeled as the 'smoking
beagles'. Mike was arrested for the action and charged with
burglary. However, knowing how much public support there had
been for the Bicester Two, I.C.I. bottled out of a trial
fearing the adverse publicity. This meant Mike was acquitted
of the charges, I.C.I. was revealed to carry out pointless
animal testing and the Bicester Two were given moral boost by
Both Cliff Goodman and Ronnie Lee only served a third of
their sentence and were both paroled after 12 months in the
spring of 1976.
Being in jail had effected both of the Bicester Two, but in
totally different ways. Cliff Goodman came out of prison with
just one thought: he didn't want to go back inside. He decided
he wasn't a revolutionary and wanted to stick to strictly
legal campaigning in the future. Sadly, whilst in prison,
Cliff decided to turn informer and gave the police a great
deal of information about the use of radios by the Band of
Mercy. For this act of treachery, Cliff was given the title of
the movements first 'grass' (police informer).
Ronnie, on the other hand, was given a new sense of
determination and realized there was widespread public support
for animal liberation illegal direct action. Whilst in prison
Ronnie read widely on the subject of the labor movement. With
this knowledge and his pure determination, he started to plan
a more revolutionary animal liberation group, a group that
could indeed achieve animal liberation.
All the time Ronnie was imprisoned he was reminded of the
animals that are imprisoned. Unlike human prisoners, these
animal inmates have no 'release date'. All that await them are
suffering and death. Whilst locked up Ronnie was reminded
about how defenseless the animals are and how they need
someone to stand up and fight on their behalf. Being
imprisoned in a cage, like the animals Ronnie was so
determined to help, gave him a new sense of solidarity and
understanding. Above all, it made him even more determined to
fight for animal liberation.
Upon his release Ronnie gathered together the remains of
the Band of Mercy. He was also able to find a couple dozen
more new recruits for the illegal direct action animal
liberation movement. Under Ronnie's gaze the new gathering (of
approximately 30 people) was able to plan its future. With
Ronnie as a leading light, the group could develop and expand
the work of the Band of Mercy. This was a revolutionary group
and everyone knew it.
The only problem for the group was the name the Band of
Mercy. The name was no longer appropriate. It didn't fit the
new revolutionary feel. A new name was needed. A name that
would haunt the animal abusers. A name who's very mention
could symbolize a whole ideology of a revolutionary movement.
A name that was more than a name. With all this in mind Ronnie
selected the name the Animal Liberation Front the A.L.F.
*Ivor Clemitson was the first ordained minister to renounce his orders to
stand for and gain election to Parliament (information provided by his daughter