There is an ongoing battle taking place in the UK, with SHAC trying to shut down HLS and vested business and state interests trying to shut down SHAC. The desperation on the part of the state has lead to the introduction of new laws criminalising legitimate protest and the harassment and targeting of peaceful and lawful campaigners.
On 18th May 2012, three people were arrested in connection with a protest at a newly exposed supplier of Huntingdon Life Sciences. A fourth person was also arrested a few weeks later. The four were accused of SOCPA 145 (interfering with a contractual relationship so as to harm an animal research organisation) and SOCPA 146 (intimidation of persons connected with an animal research organisation). They were bailed with strict conditions, such as banning them from campaigning against HLS and ordering them to live and sleep only at designated addresses.
SOCPA 145 and 146 were introduced in 2005 to class even minor public order offences against vivisection as serious crimes and to enable higher sentencing of anti-vivisection protesters. An activist found guilty of a civil wrong whilst protesting against vivisection now faces up to 5 years imprisonment, whereas someone committing the same act in connection with another issue (anti-fascism, environmentalism etc) could expect to receive a small fine.
The four were rebailed numerous times over the next 8 months, although it is extremely bad practice (and fairly unusual) for the police to keep suspects on bail for such a prolonged period without reaching a decision. The delay behind this became apparent on Thursday 17th January 2013, when the four suspects and another two people, were raided and arrested – this time for “conspiracy” to commit SOCPA 145 and 146.
This offence was allegedly in relation to SHAC and took place between October 2011 – June 2012, covering 25 incidents, including the protest the four suspects were already on bail for (which has now been dropped as an individual charge). All six were questioned and eventually bailed to return to the police station in April, again with strict conditions and this time banned from communicating with each other.
A seventh person was arrested in this case shortly afterwards and bailed along with the others.
During the raids, the policed forced entry to a number of properties, including those of the suspects’ partners and mistakenly, their neighbours. Many items were seized, including electronics and personal items unconnected to the case and belonging to both the defendants and other people living in the properties.
The most worrying aspect of this case is the lack of evidence of criminal activity against the defendants as individuals. As with previous cases, “conspiracy” is being used to group people together, without the need for evidence against them individually.
During the police interviews they mentioned a number of protests against companies dealing with HLS (some of which the defendants were accused of attending), as well as direct action (although there is no suggestion or evidence that the defendants had any knowledge or involvement in this). Beneath the legal terminology, the only thing they’re accused of doing themselves, is taking part in protests.
This case is one of the most recent examples of the lengths the UK authorities are going to in their attempt to stop people campaigning against vivisection and especially HLS. When people are no longer able to attend a lawful protest without being accused of taking part in a criminal conspiracy, it is our responsibility to speak out.
In an atmosphere of increasing repression against activists and the criminalisation of effective campaigns, it is important that we show our solidarity for those involved and form a strong network to support the UK animal rights movement.
Solidarity with Struggle