TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
Britain’s longest running animal rights trial is nearing its end after 18 weeks. The result has serious implications for civil liberties. As we reported back in SchNEWS 616 seven defendants were on trial under the new SOCPA Laws for campaigning against Ledbury animal testing laboratory Sequani. As of going to press one man, Sean Kirtley has received a guilty verdict while three others were acquitted and two are still awaiting a verdict. (One plead guilty early in proceedings in attempt to strike a bargain). Sean has now been remanded to HMP Winson Green in Birmingham.
The seven were initially busted two years ago in Operation Tornado, which has ended up costing £4m (2% of the entire police budget for West Mercia for that year). Police seized computers, phones, personal mail and clothing from houses and workplaces They even seized a packet of Rizla!
The case taken out under section 145 of SOCPA, which makes it illegal to ‘Interference with contractual relationships so as to harm animal research organisation” The interesting twist is that instead of a straightforward charge the activists were charged with conspiracy, which not only carries a heavier sentence but allows a much broader range of evidence in.1000s of hours of video footage and a detailed analysis of mobile phone records was used to try and build a picture of a hierarchy within the campaign. Based on records of who called who and when police tried to build a picture of how the campign was structured. Defendants were asked to provide reasons for virtually every phone call they’d made to each other. One supporter told us “They’ve built a ludicrously skewed picture on what were effectivley phone calls between a group of friends – they were desperate to place Sean as the leader – he’s no such thing”.
There was no evidence of intimidation or harassment or section 5 style offences by Sean Kirtley although he has now been found guilty as he was seen as the organiser of most of the demonstrations and was considered by police to be “number 1”. The main plank of the evidence was that forensics from his home computer showed that he had updated the campaign website.
Despite being a keen foxhunter and paid up member of pro-shooting lobby-group BASC, Judge Ross refused to step down. His involvement in the killing of animals and obvious opposition to the idea of animal welfare (never mind animal rights) would have on many levels affected his judgement. The trial went ahead under a fearsome set of reporting restrictions. The jury were bussed in on a daily basis and told that they could be a target for animal rights extremists. At the same time in the same building murder trial witnesses and jury members had to make their own way into the court.
People were frisked as they entered the public gallery and some were ejected for wearing “animal rights” clothing – even down to a shirt which read “Vegan”. One campaigner told us “Human rights organisation Liberty were hassled constantly by ourselves and other activists to get them to shed light on what we could see would be a time bomb clusterfuck for movements other than our own. They told us they were too busy.”
Our court correspondent told us “So to sum up, Sean Kirtley is in prison and facing a possible 5 year sentence for holding placards, attending demonstrations just because people phoned him and said, “shall we go and demo Sequani this weekend”. He was not the organiser but it was far too much of an efficient campaign to go unnoticed by those who stand to profit from vivisection. The campaign is not over,a change of tactics is being strongly discussed within our group and we plan on taking the fight to new levels over the coming months.”