Saturday, August 21, 2004

Villagers Terrorized By Animal Rights Activists

The terror within: a village living in fear of animal rights activists
By Nigel Morris, Home Affairs Correspondent
21 August 2004

Animal rights extremists have developed a sinister new tactic, targeting an entire village that is home to a family of farmers who breed guinea pigs for medical research.
In what is regarded by the Home Office as the most extreme campaign of intimidation known, activists have attacked and threatened the farmers' neighbours, their golf club and staff at the newsagents. They have also threatened to burn down the pub where family members drink.
A string of other businesses - including a fuel supplier, the local vet, hotel and solicitor - have been warned not to deal with the family. Another target was the glazier called in to repair windows after attacks by extremists.
Members of the Hall family, who run farms near Newborough, Staffordshire, have faced harassment and threats for four years. Police protection has cost £500,000.
After the windows of John Hall's local pub, the Red Lion, were smashed and staff received abusive calls, the brewery banned the Hall family from using it. The village newsagent no longer delivers the family's newspapers after threats, and the greens of the local golf course were dug up after the club refused to bar the Halls.
The full extent of the violence was revealed yesterday on a BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts. One village resident told the programme: "It is pure and simple terrorism. They come in balaclavas. They come in the middle of the night. They bang, they shout, they throw bricks through your windows, bricks through your doors. You don't want to go to bed at night in case they are going to come. You live from day to day in terror."
A 70-year-old woman, who looks after two children of a labourer at the farm received a letter containing two squares of yellow card. She was told to put up them in the youngsters' bedroom windows so they would not be smashed in. She told the programme that after she ignored the letter it proved to be no idle threat. "We were in bed at half past one in the morning and we just heard bangs and when I came down my window was in."
The woman said she received a stream of "ugly letters" that were also sent to neighbours containing death threats and claims she had sexually assaulted a member of the community. "My family have stopped coming to see me because of these people in case they get followed to where they live," she said.
Keith Marklew, who ran the Red Lion, received a demand that the Hall family be barred. When he ignored it, poison-pen letters followed, threatening to burn the building to the ground and to pour acid over customers' cars. Mr Marklew said: "The phone calls ... were horrendous - you would get them 24 hours a day."
The activists hurled bricks through the windows of the Red Lion, sent letters to every house in the village calling for a boycott of the pub and went on to threaten the whole 1,100-pub chain.
The brewery went over the licensee's head and barred the Hall family. Mr Marklew has since left the pub.
The Hall family - father David and sons Chris and John - has bred guinea pigs for more than 30 years, sending them to dozens of customers, including research laboratories. They are accused by campaigners of keeping the animals in appalling conditions in three locations in the villages of Newborough and Newchurch.
Details of the family have been posted on the internet and an organisation called the Animal Avengers reports attacks on Hall employees' property, including acid poured on their cars and slogans daubed on their homes.
A website, called Liberation Now!, says: "The campaign to close this evil animal breeding business has had many successes to date including employees leaving, companies refusing to deal with the Halls, local pubs and shops banning the Halls from their premises."
The local MP, Michael Fabricant, said: 'The irony is that if this particular guinea pig farm is closed, laboratories will import these guinea pigs from France where there are no inspections whatsoever."
The Government pledged last month to end the "animal extremists' reign of terror'' by toughening harassment laws and giving police new powers to arrest activists. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We're working closely with people like the Hall family and people in the industry. The amendments we're making to the legislation should make a difference."