is hard, if not impossible, to say when the Animal/Earth Liberation movement first
started. A study of the subject literally takes you back thousands of years to
200 B.C. when people like Pythagoras advocated vegetarianism & animal compassion
on spiritual grounds, and to the 1st century A.D. when Plutarch wrote what is
widely regarded as the first animal rights literature. |
the reader will be delighted to know that I am not going to bore you to death
with 2000 years of waffle. Instead, I merely intend to look at what occurred 30
years ago this year. But first, to fully understand the events of 30 years
ago, we must look slightly further back than that, to the events of 1964.
the 19th and 20th centuries Britain saw a wealth of Animal Welfare and Rights
groups established. However, these groups by and large relied upon the parliamentary
way of legal reform to achieve their aims. This process was incredibly slow and
achievements were minor. Even the 1911 Animal Protection Act treated animals as
property and offered no protection to wild-born creatures. By the mid-nineteen
sixties people started to look around for other ways of campaigning and in 1964
John Prestidge found that new style.
In 1964 in Brixham, Devon, England,
John Prestidge founded a group that would actively oppose blood sports. Rather
than campaigning for parliamentary reforms, John's new group was prepared to directly
go out into the fields of Britain and do everything they could, within the law,
to prevent the killing of British wildlife: John founded the Hunt Saboteurs Association
The popularity of this new form of campaigning was instant. Just
a year after the H.S.A. was founded, hunt saboteur groups were active across the
English Westcountry in Devon, Somerset and Bristol. Groups also started to emerge
outside of the Westcountry in places like Birmingham, Hampshire and Surrey.
a single Devon-based group, the H.S.A. soon became a national network of dedicated
activists using lawful methods to disrupt blood-junkies of Britain and to prevent
the "green and pleasant lands" from literally becoming the killing fields.
so it was, in 1971, as part of the ever-expanding H.S.A. network, a new hunt sab
group was formed in Luton. The group was founded by a law student named Ronnie
Lee. The Luton hunt sabs, like a lot of other hunt sab groups, soon became very
successful in saving the lives of animals. Many a hunt soon found their sadistic
days entertainment ruined by the Luton Gang.
However, despite the success
of the Luton hunt sabs in the field, it soon became apparent to some people within
the groups that the strictly legal actions of the H.S.A. could only ever go so
far to preventing animal suffering. The problem was that if a hunt is allowed
to be active, no matter how good a hunt sab group may be, there is a chance that
an animal may be harmed or killed.
Even if the sabs do manage to prevent
an animal from being killed, the fear the animal goes through whilst being hunted
is tremendous. Contemporary vet reports, gathered at the end of the 20th century,
have revealed animals do suffer incredible stress whilst being hunted.
was out of this recognition (that strictly legal hunt sabotage couldn't totally
prevent the suffering of an animal) that Ronnie Lee and a few close friends started
to look around for other ways to help prevent suffering. They realized that the
only real way to prevent any sort of suffering is to assure that the hunt is never
allowed to become active in the first place. As soon as an animal is being chased,
she is psychologically suffering as she fears for her life. Therefore she has
to be assured that 'the chase' is never allowed to start in the first place. With
this aim in mind, Ronnie Lee, Cliff Goodman and possibly two or three other people,
decided to form the Band of Mercy in 1972.
The name the Band of Mercy was
chosen because it had been the name of an earlier animal liberation direct action
group. During the 19th century, an anti-slavery activist named Catherine Smithies
had set up a youth wing to the RSPCA called the Bands of Mercy. By and large these
youth groups were just normal young supporters of the RSPCA who told stories of
heroic animal deeds and who took oaths of compassion to the animals. However some
of these young Victorian animal rights activists were a little more zealous than
others and went around sabotaging hunting riffles. The activities of the Victorian
Bands of Mercy became so great that there was even a theatrical play written during
which a group of children sabotages a hunting riffle.
For Ronnie Lee and
his companions the Victorian Bands of Mercy were a fine example of direct action,
so they decided to adopt their not-strictly-legal approach to saving lives.
the Band of Mercy concentrated on small actions directed against the hunt during
the cub- hunting season. Cub hunting is when young hounds are taught to tear young
fox cubs apart in order for the hound to get the taste for killing.
initial actions of the Band of Mercy were very simple and were basically designed
around the idea of disabling the hunt vehicles in order to slow down or even stop
the hunt from carrying out its murderous activities.
However, the Band
of Mercy was very clear from the beginning that it was not merely carrying out
acts of wanton vandalism against those whom they opposed but instead their actions
were designed around the idea of 'active compassion'. To this aim the Band would
always leave a message to the hunters explaining why the Band had carried out
their actions, the logic of animal liberation and to show that there was nothing
personal against any one individual person.
The success of the Band of
Mercy was soon clear. By carrying out illegal direct action, the Band was able
to prevent the hunts. By preventing the hunts from ever becoming active, the Band
was safe in the knowledge that not only have they saved the lives of innocent
animals, but they had also prevented the psychological suffering of 'the chase'.
Recognizing their true potential for the prevention of animal suffering,
the Band then started to think about ways to expand and develop their campaigns.
Following on from their early successes the Band soon became much more daring.
Towards the end of 1973, the Band learnt about the construction of a new vivisection
laboratory. The research laboratory was being built near Milton Keynes for a company
called Hoechst Pharmaceutical.
Having learnt about its existence, two of
the Band's activists visited the vivisection lab building sight a few times whilst
trying to decide the best course of action to be taken. Together these activists
realized that if they could prevent the building from ever being completed, then
they could prevent the suffering of animals destined to be tortured within its
four walls. The Band had to assure the construction could never be finished and
eventually decided that the best way to destroy the construction was through the
use of arson.
By destroying the building, the Band would prevent the vivisectors
from ever being able to start their brand of sadistic 'science'. And even if the
damage caused by the fire could be repaired, the restoration work would all cost
money that would have to be paid for by Hoechst Pharmaceutical (thus meaning less
money to spend on torturing animals).
On November 10th, 1973, the Band
of Mercy conducted its first ever action against the vivisection industry. Two
activists gained access into the half completed building at Milton Keynes. Once
inside the activists set fire to the building. This action was a double watershed
for the movement as it was not only the Bands first action against the vivisection
industry; it was also the Bands first use to arson.
In that first
fire an amazing £26,000 worth of damage was caused. More incredible was
six days later, the Band of Mercy returned and started another fire in the same
building causing a further £20,000 damage.
To make sure everyone
knew why the building was set alight, the Band of Mercy sent a message to the
press. The statement read:
"The building was set fire to in an effort
to prevent the torture and murder of our animal brothers and sisters by evil experiments.
We are a non-violent guerrilla organization dedicated to the liberation of animals
from all forms of cruelty and persecution at the hands of mankind. Our actions
will continue until our aims are achieved".
After the Milton Keynes
arson, the next major action occurred in June 1974 when the Band turned its attention
to the bloody seal cull of the Wash along the Norfolk coast.
The seal cull
was an annual event and involved hunters going out in two Home Office licensed
boats and butchering seals. Seal culling is a bloody attack and the seal has no
hope of escape. Knowing how sick the seal cull is the Band obviously wanted to
prevent the cull from ever starting. With the goal of preventing the cull from
ever starting and regarding the success in the use of arson in the November 1973
action, the Band once again decided to use arson as a campaign tool to destroy
the tools of animal murder.
In June 1974 the Band of Mercy set out their
second major action. Under the cover of darkness, two activists sought out the
Home Office licensed boats. Having found the boats, these transporters of death
were then set alight. One of the boats was sadly only slightly damaged by the
fire; the other however, was totally destroyed.
After conducting this June
1974 action, the Band of Mercy decided that this time they wouldn't leave a message
claiming responsibility. Instead they wanted to leave the sealers wondering what
on earth had happened, if those responsible would return and if someone else provided
two new boats, if these new vessels would meet with the same fiery fate.
year there was no seal cull at all due to the actions of the Band of Mercy. Also,
besides totally halting the seal cull for that year, there was another knock on
effect. Because of the fire, the owner of the two Home Office licensed boats went
out of business. And having seen one persons business totally destroyed
by the actions of these anonymous arsonists, no one was keen to invest the money
into a new business that might very well go the same way. Because of this fear
no one has ever attempted to re-start a seal culling business and there has never
been a seal cull at the Wash since. Because of the actions of two activists, countless
numbers of seals have been saved from the bloody annual seal cull.
back on the June 1974 action it is clear for everyone to see that what happened
was an amazing success. Not only were de facto seals saved at the time, but generations
of seals to come have also been saved from the seal cullers. Sadly, however, despite
the fact the Band of Mercy was saving lives and preventing suffering, not everyone
in the animal liberation movement approved of their tactics.
In July 1974
a member of the Hunt Saboteurs Association offered a reward of £250 for
information that would inform upon the Band of Mercy. Speaking on behalf of the
local sab group the person represented, the spokesperson told the press, "We
approve of their ideals, but are opposed to their methods."
can say they approve of a persons ideals and then side against them by offering
a reward for their capture is a total mystery. Fortunately, despite this act of
treachery, the Band of Mercy had by now realized its power. By performing illegal
actions the Band was able to directly save the lives of animals by destroying
the tool of torture and death. Even if the weaker members of the movement rejected
the Bands ideas, the Band realized its work had to continue. To stop would
be to let the animals down.
Following the anti-seal action the Band of
Mercy then launched its first intensive wave of campaigning against the vivisection
industry. In the months leading up to the action at the Wash, the Band of Mercy
had been able to gather some inside information about vivisection laboratory animal
suppliers. All of this information was gathered and stored, waiting for the day
it could be used to its fullest effect. And so it was, that following the action
at the Wash, the Band was able to launch straight into a wave of actions against
the vivisection industry.
Between June and August 1974 the Band of Mercy
launched eight raids against vivisection lab animal suppliers. The main emphasis
of the actions was to cause economic sabotage by either damaging buildings or
vehicles. But the Band also reached another landmark in their history by carrying
out their first-ever animal rescue during this period.
The first Band of
Mercy animal rescue happened in Wiltshire in the English Westcountry. A guinea
pig farm was targeted and the activists managed to rescue half a dozen of the
inmates. Besides being a landmark action for being the first Band of Mercy animal
rescue, the action also produced an unexpected but very welcome outcome. The guinea
pig farm owner was so shaken by the raid she began to fear that more activists
would turn up during the night. With such a fear of the masked strangers breaking
into her home, this uncaring capitalist who profited from animal torture took
the only course of sensible action she closed her business.
targeting the vivisection industry, the Band of Mercy also continued to take actions
against the hunt. But not wanting to limit their actions to just two forms of
animal abuse, the Band also targeted chicken breeders and the firearm lobby. In
July 1974, a gun shop in Marlborough was attacked and damaged. The original Victorian
Bands of Mercy could surely be proud that their great deeds were being continued
in a twentieth-century form.
For a small group of friends, consisting of
less than half a dozen activists, the Band of Mercy was able to make a tremendous
impact against the animal abusers and their presence was truly feint. Sadly, however,
the Band of Mercy's luck ran out in August 1974.
In August 1974 the Band
of Mercy targeted Oxford Laboratory Animal Colonies in Bicester. The first action
was a success. But then the Band of Mercy made the mistake of returning to O.L.A.C.
two days late (I should point out its very easy with hindsight to say it was a
mistake to return, but back then it was a perfectly logical action). It was on
this second raid the activists, Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman, were spotted by
a security guard. After being spotted the police were called and Ronnie and Cliff
were promptly arrested.
If the police had hoped that the arrests would
bring an end to the Band of Mercy, they were very mistaken. The arrest of Ronnie
Lee and Cliff Goodman gave a fresh wave of publicity to the Band of Mercy. Rather
than being regarded as terrorists, many people viewed the Band as heroes. These
two young men were seen as a sort of latter day Robin Hood for the animals. Ronnie
and Cliff were soon canonized as the Bicester Two. Throughout the hearing daily
demonstrations took place outside the court. Support for the Bicester Two was
very strong and came from the most unlikely of quarters. Even Ronnie Lee's local
Member of Parliament, the Free Church Minister Ivor Clemitson, joined in the campaign
for their release.
Despite the strong public support for the Bicester Two,
both Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman were given three years imprisonment. A letter
published in the Daily Telegraph shows the anger felt at the outcome of the first
animal liberation trial.
"Many would sympathize with their action
against the utterly diabolical and largely unnecessary form of cruelty involved
in animal experimentation. These young men, while defying the law, showed great
courage, and the sentences of three years imprisonment seems unrealistic and harsh."
Now, it is said you can't keep a good Animal/Earth liberation activist
down. This is certainly true in the case of Ronnie Lee. After the sentencing,
Ronnie and Cliff split up. Ronnie was moved to Winchester prison and Cliff went
back to Oxford prison (whilst on remand both Ronnie and Cliff were inmates of
At Winchester prison Ronnie discovered that provisions
for vegans in prison were less than desirable. So once at Winchester, to try and
assure a decent meal and proper vegan clothing Ronnie went on a hunger strike.
This hunger strike gained a great deal of media attention and once again the issue
of animal liberation was being openly discussed. With the spotlight once again
being focused on animal liberation Ronnie soon expanded his hunger strike demands
to include issues revolving around Porton Down, the Government's chemical and
biological warfare research station, where horrific animal experimentation goes
The media focus about the hunger strike was spectacular. With all the
much-unwanted attention, Winchester prison soon had to back down and supply Ronnie
with his vegan provisions. Sadly the same outcome did not occur for Porton Down.
In tactical manipulation to assure the media spotlight did not cause the Ministry
of Defense any embarrassment, all of the media attention was focused on Ronnie
himself, even though it wasn't what he wanted. So it was, that in recognition
that the media was moving the debate from animal abuse and onto the hunger strike,
Ronnie decided to end his protest.
Sadly, despite Ronnie setting such a
good example whilst in prison, the other activists in the Band of Mercy brought
the Band to an almost grinding halt whilst the Bicester Two were jailed. The only
major event to take place during the time of the Bicester Two's imprisonment was
In 1975 Mike Huskisson managed to rescue two beagles from I.C.I.
The beagles were being used in tobacco smoking experiments and were appropriately
labeled as the 'smoking beagles'. Mike was arrested for the action and charged
with burglary. However, knowing how much public support there had been for the
Bicester Two, I.C.I. bottled out of a trial fearing the adverse publicity. This
meant Mike was acquitted of the charges, I.C.I. was revealed to carry out pointless
animal testing and the Bicester Two were given moral boost by Mikes action.
Both Cliff Goodman and Ronnie Lee only served a third of their sentence
and were both paroled after 12 months in the spring of 1976.
Being in jail
had effected both of the Bicester Two, but in totally different ways. Cliff Goodman
came out of prison with just one thought: he didn't want to go back inside. He
decided he wasn't a revolutionary and wanted to stick to strictly legal campaigning
in the future. Sadly, whilst in prison, Cliff decided to turn informer and gave
the police a great deal of information about the use of radios by the Band of
Mercy. For this act of treachery, Cliff was given the title of the movements first
'grass' (police informer).
Ronnie, on the other hand, was given a new sense
of determination and realized there was widespread public support for animal liberation
illegal direct action. Whilst in prison Ronnie read widely on the subject of the
labor movement. With this knowledge and his pure determination, he started to
plan a more revolutionary animal liberation group, a group that could indeed achieve
All the time Ronnie was imprisoned he was reminded of
the animals that are imprisoned. Unlike human prisoners, these animal inmates
have no 'release date'. All that await them are suffering and death. Whilst locked
up Ronnie was reminded about how defenseless the animals are and how they need
someone to stand up and fight on their behalf. Being imprisoned in a cage, like
the animals Ronnie was so determined to help, gave him a new sense of solidarity
and understanding. Above all, it made him even more determined to fight for animal
Upon his release Ronnie gathered together the remains of the
Band of Mercy. He was also able to find a couple dozen more new recruits for the
illegal direct action animal liberation movement. Under Ronnie's gaze the new
gathering (of approximately 30 people) was able to plan its future. With Ronnie
as a leading light, the group could develop and expand the work of the Band of
Mercy. This was a revolutionary group and everyone knew it.
The only problem
for the group was the name the Band of Mercy. The name was no longer appropriate.
It didn't fit the new revolutionary feel. A new name was needed. A name that would
haunt the animal abusers. A name who's very mention could symbolize a whole ideology
of a revolutionary movement. A name that was more than a name. With all this in
mind Ronnie selected the name the Animal Liberation Front the A.L.F.