On Wednesday 21st January 2009, seven activists from SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty), including Heather Nicholson from Swansea and Daniel Wadham from Aberdare, were sentenced to prison terms totalling 50 years. Individual sentences ranged from four to eleven years for ‘conspiracy to blackmail with persons unknown’. The implications of this judgement go far beyond the animal rights movement.
SHAC, set up to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) in late 1999, has long been the target of government oppression and it seems our elected ‘leaders’ will stop at nothing to clamp down on legitimate protest in order to protect big business.
HLS claim their tests are performed to strict criteria, provide reliable results that can be reproduced and use leading standards of animal care and welfare. However, in recent years, HLS has been exposed on seven separate occasions for falsifying data, staff incompetence and animal cruelty, including workers punching beagle puppies in the face .
Far from being the pioneers of life-saving medical research depicted by the mainstream media, HLS is a commercial contract testing company which tests artificial colourings, flavourings and sweeteners, herbicides, GM food, plastics, industrial chemicals, ‘health foods’, dietary supplements and a small amount of drugs for other commercial companies. It is the largest company of its kind in Europe with approximately 70,000 animals on site at anytime including rabbits, cats, hamsters, dogs, guinea-pigs, birds and monkeys. HLS kill 500 animals every day.
As SHAC’s campaign against HLS took hold, more and more investors (including the Labour party) sold their shares, causing the value of the company to plunge. The situation became so desperate that the government stepped in to provide both banking facilities and insurance.
Brian Cass, managing director of HLS, complained that the company wasn’t being defended. He wanted draconian penalties introduced against anti-vivisectionists and he got his way. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 was amended, creating new offences including harassment in relation to such protests, intimidation of persons connected to animal research organizations and interference with the contractual relationships of animal research organizations.
Yet despite this raft of new legislation it is important to stress that these seven committed individuals have not been convicted of any form of illegal direct action. They’ve been handed absurdly long jail sentences because they played a part in a successful campaign to dent the profits of an industry they believe to be unjust. What the authorities have sought to do is to vilify a legal and peaceful campaign and to ’round up’ its assumed leaders in order to break the back of a successful movement. The prosecution had only to prove that the campaign against HLS influenced ‘persons unknown’ into taking illegal direct action. This is a classic example of a political motive behind policing in Britain in order to defend corporate interests. Justice, once more, played no part in the proceedings.
Judge Butterfield’s decision will almost certainly have implications for anyone who protests. Anti-war campaigners who publish information about a military base and call for its closure, for example, could also be prosecuted for ‘conspiracy to blackmail’ if that base was then subject to an arson attack even if the campaigners had nothing to do with the arsonists.
Activists beware! The National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), created to defeat the animal rights movement is, no doubt, already looking for other groups to target…
Protestors are not extremists and SHAC are resolved to continue their protests against those who needlessly slaughter animals, as their actions of last week clearly demonstrate.
South Wales Anarchists stand in solidarity with those convicted, Cardiff ABC shows how you can support these, and other prisoners.