Live Animal Exports - A Truly English Objection
A million years from now the earth may be filled with creatures who strictly deny they ever descended from man. The Irish Digest

Over a period of six weeks during the winter of 1994, three significant events rocked the movement, uniting its various elements into a single powerful force. The first was this ground-breaking judicial backlash at the Old Bailey, followed two weeks later by a huge uprising against the live animal export trade. Flaring up from a small spark at the southern port of Shoreham in Sussex, an evening of determined protest led to the most remarkable ripple of events across the country, involving thousands of people, many of whom had never even protested before. And then there was another violent killing. Again the so-called extremists were on the receiving end.

Live animal exports were traditionally the domain of the RSPCA and Compassion in World Framing (CIWF) and fronted by the likes of Joanna Lumley and Celia Hammond; not an animal liberation issue but a welfare one. What was once considered a secondary issue regarding the perceived benefits of animal killing in UK slaughterhouses over death elsewhere had become a raging battle for the entire movement. Naturally, I take issue with the ‘niceness’ of UK slaughtering, as does anyone who has experienced our way of killing animals for food. I have no aspiration to see any animal killed here first and then be shipped out dead for human consumption to spare them the horror elsewhere as the welfarist demands. This strikes me as a logical stance, believing as I do that slaughterhouses by definition are cruel places where no animal should ever be taken under any circumstances.

To have ‘welfarists’ on the one hand publicly and tearfully objecting to the export of live animals for slaughter, whilst on the other, taking money from Slaughterers and Co. for advertising animal products smacks of hypocrisy and double standards and will never bring an end to animal exploitation. One media babe - who describes herself as an “animal lover” and courts the label - advertises dairy yoghurts with added gelatine, while in the ranks, RSPCA inspectors were caught on camera munching on animal body parts while tracking the horrific journeys of UK ‘farm stock’ across Europe for slaughter elsewhere. With representatives such as this, what chance do the animals stand?

This astounding hypocrisy amongst animal welfarists is very commonplace: the CIWF are happy with UK slaughtering to continue ad infinitum and suggest in their Compassionate Shopping Guide that consumers should “favour organic or free range meat, milk and eggs” to “help increasing numbers of farm animals enjoy fresh air and sunshine,” - that is, of course, before they are loaded up and carted off for slaughter. (Unsurprisingly, at the beginning of September 2006, CIWF apparently endorsed the potential resurgence of British veal, claiming that it is humane, especially the organic version). When do you admit to those organic and free range meat eaters that in actual fact its all been a big lie and there is still terrible violence associated with your habit, that animals aren’t good converters of food and that meat production degrades the enviornment?

The RSPCA go one step further to baffle and bewilder, by promoting their Freedom Food animal products which, they say, “Improve the lives of as many farm animals as possible”. Animals that are living short, miserable lives and dying a brutal death. You can help by choosing the recipe of your desire from their Freedom Food Celebrity Recipe collection which is packed full of disgusting meal ideas for your animal friends to become. As one P.D.N. Earle, President of The Country Gentleman’s Association rightly said: Instead of turning into a wholesale slaughtering organisation, it would be better if the RSPCA took the more positive line of preventing over breeding ... the RSPCA also has been totally ineffective against the ever increasing scandal of vivisection and experiments of doubtful validity on animals...

So how did the Animal Liberation Movement get dragged into a massive nationwide battle over live exports? How come some of our best activists ended up on the streets alongside animal abusers ostensibly demanding animals be killed in UK slaughterhouses?

It was the third day of January 1995 when around 200 people, including many locals, staged a protest at the port of Shoreham. This issue would not be ignored for long with so many people witnessing scenes reminiscent of 1940s Europe, as huge truckloads of baby calves were driven along the Brighton sea front to the docks through the traditional heartland of the Animal Liberation Movement. “Big black noses and sad eyes follow you, seeking solace as they peer from every hole in long convoys of trucks as you make your way to the beach” isn’t a sentence you’ll find in the brochures, but you couldn’t miss these forlorn orphans as the trundled by.

This protest in itself wasn’t remarkable as there had been a low level of opposition for some time, largely orchestrated by the likes of the South East Animal Rights Coalition, East Kent Animal Welfare and CIWF, but there was something brewing that no one could have predicted. For some time the race had been on amongst the welfare groups to plot the longest journey from the UK of our animals; such trips a well-documented nightmare. The thousand strong, CIWF-sponsored lobby of Parliament following the release of a World in Action documentary exposing surveillance footage of the terrible journeys to which these animals are subjected to for days on end without food, water or rest and the headlines that followed were perhaps a hint of public feelings - not to mention the 400,000-signature petition which was presented to the Ministry of Agriculture. There was consternation that the banning of veal crates in the UK on welfare grounds was merely causing more animals to be shipped abroad and that William Waldegrave MP, head of MAFF, was himself involved in the trade in baby calves.

There were only 50 police on hand to control the first protest at Shoreham, which suggested they’d missed the signs too. They were ill-equipped to clear the road being blocked by cold, angry protesters as the first wagons arrived that night. After half an hour of this stand-off, with police outnumbered and protesters empowered and determined, the wagons were turned back; police announced there would be no attempt to try and get them through again that night. Forget the petitions, live exports had finally been stopped! Playwright & animal campaigner Carla Lane was right: “These people have done more in a few days to bring this cruelty to public attention than people like me have done by peaceful discussion over years.”

Word went round that there had been a victory at Shoreham and the radicals rallied. The next night, well over 300 people turned up, all ages, shapes and sizes. Sussex Police had only doubled their numbers which meant they were again unable to prevent a repeat performance, which was by this time being reported in the media but described as an anarchist riot with yobs attacking ill-equipped bobbies. A balaclava-clad activist atop the cab of a truck full of calves was photographed smashing its windscreen with a house brick and splashed over the news the next day. Rather than scare everyone off this served as a rallying cry! The news editors may have preferred to focus on the “thugs”, but the animal lovers, welfarists, vegans et al were focussing on the animals, who were leaving our shores for the slaughterhouses and veal crates of Johnny Foreigner. This is what really mattered.

CIWF surpassed themselves by siding with the media version and denounced the violence of a couple of glass smashers and the trickery of those out-manoeuvring the police and exporters to stop the cruel trade. Terrified of being associated with these images, they took away their placards and said they weren’t going to have anything more to do with the organisation of the demos. They asked their supporters not to attend, to not campaign against live exports! Local campaigners responded to this confused message by calling for more and bigger protests while asserting these protests were nothing to do with CIWF in the first place. This was borne out the very next day as numbers swelled to over 1000 activists determined to stop the wagons. Suddenly the campaign against live exports had become something significant!

After three days with no live exports and extensive media coverage, the police had the measure of what was happening at Shoreham and had block-booked local hotels and shipped in 1500 officers from other forces to balance the numbers and ensure the wagons kept rolling, at a cost of £200,000 a night. They then surpassed themselves with what they did next.

Imagine riot police punching elderly ladies, throwing kids into walls, wading in feet first on families sitting in the road; a dozen motorcycle outriders in front and behind and riot cops marching in tight formation alongside huge convoys of wagons full to bursting with baby cows; a police dinghy with divers in the harbour to ensure the smooth passage out of the country… These were real scenes that many will never forget. The Metropolitan Police had a lesson or two for the Sussex force in how to deal with dissent and there seemed to be no shortage of officers in reserve to take over from their exhausted colleagues as the battles raged for hours, then days, then weeks then months, leading to over 300 arrests and many people being injured. It was a wake up for Middle England.

And it went beyond Shoreham to every location from which live animals were exported:
Brightlingsea in Essex, Plymouth in Devon, Dover in Kent and Coventry in Warwickshire. If Shoreham was a revelation, then Brightlingsea was the second coming. The tiny Essex town rallied the majority of the 2000 people who gathered to block the port there, which, from a population of only 8000, is quite remarkable. So, too, the scenes plastered across TV screens worldwide as Essex Police, with an aggressive reputation second only to the Met, waded into civilians sitting in the road trying to prevent cattle trucks from leaving the country. So overt and aggressive was the violence that one tabloid saw it as it was, describing police correctly as “rent-a-thugs” in its front-page headlines.

Derrick Day, an elderly veteran campaigner, collapsed and died of a heart attack during one public meeting between protesters and Essex Police after giving them a dressing down for their brutality.

Seventy-six-year-old Roger Sear found his forte with the coming of the Shoreham protests. With his home overlooking the harbour, it meant he was able to keep a vigil over the water for the veal ships arriving and then alert others. It was an important role he played and was acknowledged by the farmers who threatened him. Undeterred, he responded: “I had to do something - I couldn’t stand by and think what might happen to those calves. A man called and threatened to poison my cats. But cowards like that won’t stop me.” The threats didn’t deter him, but they did frighten him and probably contributed to the pneumonia that killed him suddenly a few months later.

But this wasn’t just about cruelty to animals. It was about upholding our right to protest, about challenging the realms of our so-called democracy and about the rule of law being broken and violently by police officers. There was also an element who so intensely disliked the idea of some backwater Spanish slaughterhouse killing our animals that they were prepared to face the wrath of riot police so the animals could instead be sent to one here.

There were of course plenty of vegans on these protests as one would have rightly expected. People who demonstrably object to the practise of making cows routinely pregnant so that humans can drink their babies’ milk. And are not prepared to be party to those baby cows being sent to a living death in Europe, spent in tiny wooden crates, being fed a nutrient-deficient diet to make their flesh anaemic, ready for the day they are sent to slaughter a few weeks later to be cut up and sold as ‘veal’.

Yet there were also vegetarians and meat-eaters at the protests who were - and more than likely still are for the most part - among the consumers responsible for the calves’ fate, and for their suffering and that of their lactating mothers. Of course, some had never made the connection and would change their dietary habits in due course, but others remained set in their ways, quite prepared to be sent to prison or hospital but not to change their eating habits! News editors, finding it hard to perpetuate the myth that this was some kind of anarchist riot, instead rounded on these people for their hypocrisy. In using the time-honoured trick of draining public support by portraying peaceful protesters as violent thugs, they created their headlines. In some reports it was claimed there were, for the most part, only NIMBYs blocking the traffic; locals not wanting the animal cargo trundling through their town, or ‘back yard’. Some claimed with successive news headlines that at Brightlingsea a “police officer has been stabbed by animal rights protesters”. It transpired, the officer caught himself on a lorry wing mirror, but how many of us hearing the earlier shocking news story were given the benefit of the actual truth once the lie died? It was a footnote and stabbing police officers was now up there on the loony agenda with poisoning babies, terrorising neighbourhoods, burning chickens alive, killing animals in labs and on release, poisoning and blinding hunt horses and hounds and holding back medical research. Come and join us!

However diverse the motivation of the protesters, the state was single-minded in its approach. In the middle of this muddle over infant cows and a trade said to be worth around £200 million a year, there was a break out from the top security Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight just across the water from Shoreham. This was a really serious break out that ultimately led to a very public, very damaging conflict between the Home Secretary and the Prison Service, which suffered enormous upheaval, the downgrading of Parkhurst from Category A to B, the sacking of the prison governor and acute embarrassment for all concerned.

Three category A life sentence prisoners (two doing time for murder) were on the run for five days, yet there were considerably more police resources ensuring that calves were successfully shipped out to the Continent than there were looking for escaped murderers. It was only bad luck that the escapees had been unable to steal a light plane as they’d planned and were arrested on the island five days later when spotted by chance by a prison officer. There had been 200 police officers searching the 22 x 12 mile island and over 1000 at the tiny port of Shoreham and it was ultimately the bill for policing the protests, estimated at £4 million and which the Sussex force was footing, that sealed the besieged Shoreham Port Authority’s decision not to renew shipping licences from the port the following year. The main ferry companies had been encouraged to pull out by supporters of every group from the RSPCA to the Justice Department, who we‘ll get to shortly (most persuasively by the latter, sadly), and airlines backed out too, for fear of being targeted by British activists. This was a victory for people power but failed to kill off the trade that today circulates through the port of Dover.

What makes an even greater tragedy out of this tragedy of Live Exports is what happened next.


From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann