For immediate release: June 11th 2008
In an unprecedented case, the press were barred from reporting the trial, witnesses were bussed into the court and mobile phones were even confiscated from the public before they entered the gallery and the jury. The atmosphere was more akin to a terrorist trial than one relating to non-violent protest, which made the charges appear far more sinister than they in fact were. The choice of judge was also considered highly questionable considering he is a keen hunter.
Sean Kirtley was found guilty under Section 145 of the SOCPA law for “Interfering with the contractual relationships of a Laboratory” for allegedly organising protests at Sequani Limited and associated business associates. Police say disorder took place on a occasions during protests and claim as the organiser that Sean is responsible for any criminality that takes place.
The police claimed that during the protests individuals, not Kirtley, had been verbally abusive to staff members and that they had caused them to feel harassed. However, no-one was arrested or charged with such an offence, and prosecution witnesses testified that Kirtley had on most occasions been silent and peaceful throughout protests. Whilst Kirtley contends he did not organise protests at Sequani or its suppliers, he operated a website which effectively campaigned against the company. In a move that will alarm internet publishers and bloggers, posting details of the legal protests and information about Sequani and suppliers was considered key evidence that he was the campaign organiser.
As the supposed organiser of the legal protest, Kirtley has therefore been convicted because of supposed actions by phantom third parties that Sean had conspired with or as the law states “persons unknown”. No evidence was used in the trial that proved he had engaged in anti social behaviour on demonstrations, criminal damage or any other illegal activity.
Kirtley will now be incarcerated for far longer than most dangerous criminals. It appears that after such an expensive and extensive investigation, the CPS needed a conviction to justify such a huge expense of public money. Even then, the sentence passed was unusually severe. Child abusers, rapists and violent criminals are often given far lower sentences for far more serious crimes. In the same week, in two other high-profile cases, a man was given a similar sentence for causing the violent death of his baby son, and two brothers were jailed for only two years for committing serious assault that permanently blinded their victim.
The five other defendants were found not guilty in the, yet the Judge refused to award significant travel costs to them, totalling many thousands of pounds. Even though Pauline Burgess was found not guilty, she was bound over by Judge Ross who prohibited her from joining in the legal protests against the company for a year, and threatened her with a £1000 fine on any occasion that she does.
Aside from the unbelievable sentence, the trial has serious implications for the freedom of the internet and civil liberties in this country.
A precedent has now been set that simply publishing details or sharing information about a protest can be used as evidence that the publisher is the organiser of the event. Worse still, someone can be locked up under SOCPA for an extended period of time for simply organising a legal protest in which, according to hearsay, someone else committed an offence.
Kirtley will be lodging an appeal. Kirtley’s defence lawyer said: “This case sadly goes to show that animal rights campaigners have been singled out and ordinary criminal law principles have been contorted simply because, in the Government’s eyes, powerful commercial interests, founded on animal experimentation, are at risk from effective, open and popular protests.”
We urge the press to cover the case because this is not just an issue of an animal rights protester, whose views we understand many members of the media may not share. But as Voltaire once said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. We hope that this proves the case today.
Most importantly, the case has serious repercussions on the freedom of publishing protest information on the net and the right to protest peacefully, particularly where commercial interests are concerned.
It is also extremely relevant in the light of upcoming “terror legislation” because it demonstrates mission creep - how the SOCPA law, enacted under the pretext of protecting the public from terrorists, is now being used to silence non-violent protesters.
Notes to Editors
West Mercia Police spent 2% of their budget pursuing the investigation and the trial. In this period, violent crime and robberies increased in 06/07 compared with the previous year.
The trial has been the longest Animal Rights trial in history and has been one of the longest trials West Mercia police have been involved in.
Section 145 of the SOCPA law (2006) is related to the Interfering with the contractual relationships of a Laboratory, which is an extension of the original SOCPA legislation which was enacted in 2005 under the pretext of protecting the government from terrorism. Many believe it was aimed at curtailing the Brian Haw anti-war protest around Westminster. Whilst Haw has remained protesting because of poor drafting of the law, the act itself and criminalisation of individuals prosecuted for unapproved but peaceful protest, has cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds. The Act is increasingly being used to prevent those protesting peacefully against the government or commercial interests - peace activists, environmentalists, and animal rights activists being the main targets.
The SSAT website was closed down and a new campaign against animal experimentation at Sequani has been started by other activists – http://sequani.wordpress.com
Interviews can be arranged with the legal team and campaign press officer by contacting:
Name: Chris Dowdeswell
Tel: 01452 539673 / 07912 039069