months later in a first of its kind, several meat trucks were burnt out
and on Xmas Eve there were three more in flames. To prove this wasn’t
the preserve of a small number of objectors, 200 activists protested at
the International Fur Auction, a hugely important event for fur traders.
Sporadic actions around the event gave the appearance of a siege and resulted
in over 40 people being arrested by the end of the day.
this in no time at all, in a country that had hitherto played a negligible
part in the growing Animal Liberation Movement. At the end of this year
of unprecedented direct action, carried out predominantly by 19 and 20
year olds, scores of fur shops had closed down and rather bold predictions
were being made by activists about the imminent collapse of the fur trade
in Finland in the next few years. This was a rallying call to all involved
in the industry to stand up and fight back. That meant not so much defending
the practice of fur farming and extolling its virtues, but more violence.
on the front line of the industry were quick to issue their own threats
to activists to the effect that if any were caught by the farmers, there
would be trouble. Sure enough, it was two years on, but for the fur traders
it was worth waiting for to prove they were good for their word. Alerted
by recently installed movement sensors and silent alarms, five young raiders
were rumbled late one night by the sleepless farmer as they entered a
fox farm that had been raided three times before. As they ran from the
scene, he emptied his shotgun into them.
was hit in the lower back, one five times in the arms and legs and another
was hit in the lungs and took another nine puncture wounds. All considered
themselves to be very lucky, even though they were arrested in their car
en route to hospital and had their homes searched. One injured woman was
remanded in custody for five months and questioned repeatedly and was
only released after going on hunger strike. The farmer told a pack of
lies and was allowed to go about his cruel business armed and dangerous
until some time later, following public pressure and threats of civil
proceedings, police invited him to have a less cordial chat. He was then
arrested and charged with assault, an unlikely charge in the event but
a step in the right direction. As media interest grew and the police were
forced to see through the gunman’s story, they upped the allegations
to three counts of attempted manslaughter and two of reckless endangerment.
The activists were charged with disturbing the domestic peace.
raiders were convicted. At the wounding trial, the farmer argued that
there had been no other way to detain the prowlers save by shooting them
and was duly convicted of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.
Everyone then exchanged money. He had to compensate the three people for
their injuries to the tune of four thousand Marks and pay their hospital
costs and got 18 months probation. They had to pay him and his wife one
thousand Marks for emotional suffering and serve four months probation.
amount of public sympathy generated for one man and his gun, and indeed
the wider industry, was a wake-up call for the enthusiastic fledgling
movement - a reminder that there was some way to go to make Finland fur
farm free. A thousand farms have closed in ten years with another 1,500
legal proceedings, it emerged that just one of the 50 foxes freed in another
raid on the same farm had remained unaccounted for after the roundup,
that has been repeated elsewhere. In the UK following a release of 150
mink from Fairwood Mink Farm at Darcy Lever in Bolton in 1984, 145 were
recaptured, three died and just two remained free. Other raids have resulted
in larger numbers of animals avoiding the round-up and all have resulted
in wider implications for the farm owners.
of tests carried out by the Finnish Fur Breeders Union on henna-dyed pelts
confirmed there was no way the damage could be undone, rendering sabotaged
pelts worthless. Worthless pelts mean worthless animals and worthless
animals don’t live in cages. Over the next ten years, in the region
of 100 fur farms were raided in Finland releasing tens of thousands of
animals and causing huge damage to pelts and equipment with no end in
series of raids on mink farms in Germany saw 300 mink released, pelts
wrecked and a variety of buildings burnt out. In Austria, two raids saw
150 mink potter off to pastures new from recently established farms. In
Italy, 2,000 mink were released from their cages. In Norway, a fur trader’s
offices were attacked, dozens of windows broken, locks glued and equipment
sabotaged. 110 foxes were dyed with red henna at a farm in Telemark where
a car was also damaged, graffiti was sprayed around the place and breeding
books were taken. In one night, five separate farms in the Rogaland area
lost 20-25 mink each. Fur outlets have typically been targeted too. In
Sweden, the DBF burnt five buildings at an unoccupied fur farm processing
plant and offices, causing $600,000 damage.
America, where there was plenty else affecting fur traders, an incendiary
device thrown through a window of the two-storey Alaskan Fur Co. warehouse
at Bloomington started a blaze which went on to cause $2,750,000 worth
of damage. One million dollars-worth of damage was caused to the main
office area and four trucks belonging to the Utah Fur Breeders Agricultural
Cooperative; also destroyed by fire was a one ton truck belonging to a
company that manufactured a pelt cleaning solution used by furriers.
were, and still are, all manner of less news worthy activities pressurising
the fur trade in these and many other countries. Harrods in London have
again begun to sell fur coats and attracted a regular animal rights presence,
which has cost the business tens of thousands of pounds in legal injunctions
alone in an attempt to restrict the protests.
the UK in 1976, when the first foxes were deliberately freed from a farm
in Scotland it heralded the beginning of the end for fur farming. (But
not before some controversy. You just can’t abuse animals these
days without there being some controversy! It’s inevitably become
an essential ingredient in the crusade against animal abuse). Where there
had once been 600 fur farms operating by the early 1980s, there were only
68 mink farms and a handful of fox farms left, including one in Wales
and eight in Scotland. And the majority of these were closed down during
the 1990s down from 52 in 1989 to just 13 in 1999.
its fair to say that much of the movement had gone slightly soft on the
fur trade there were some activists who had kept their eye on what was
going on at the dozen or so remaining mink farms still operating in the
UK. They’d also set aside an evening or two to remind the rest of
society that there were wild mink in cages. There has been an hyper sensitive
reaction to the deliberate release of captive animals into the vast expanse
of the USA and in Europe but the backlash was unprecedented in the UK
when 6000 mink were released into the New Forest in the autumn of 1998.
It was in the middle of what they call the silly season for news reporting,
and along with the mink, the ALF unleashed a swarm of human prejudices.
that there was no point complaining or feeling angry, not even much point
voting, one rescue team headed into the New Forest early one evening,
aiming for Crow Hill Farm, they got dropped off half a mile away and walked
through the pitch darkness to the back of the compound, masked up, then
negotiated the ageing mink-proof fence.
away in a valley, this is an ideal location for something you want to
hide, but access is good through the trees from the back if you are reasonably
agile. The guard dogs were locked up at the front of the site. The night
was young. It wasn’t hard to persuade the mink out of the cages.
Most didn’t even have nest boxes attached in which to hide - something
even the fur industry now accepts as a necessary extravagance. Two hours
later, in a slick operation, the raiders retraced their steps, called
transport and left the county. Six thousand mink had the one chance they’d
get to do the same.
hours of daybreak the following morning, MAFF had a 14-strong team dressed
in camouflage clothing hunting down escapees across the New Forest - all
93,000 acres of it. Farmers and landowners were granted free reign to
exterminate any that surfaced. Every trigger happy gun toting moron stirred.
The Hampshire Mink Hounds were empowered! The do-gooders were out stalking
mink, believing they were doing something for society. Everybody was out
there trying to get the poor things back into their miserable cage existence.
Wanted Dead or Alive! It’s not their fault! The liberators who created
this state of near hysteria among so many must have been stunned by the
over-reaction to their simple act of sabotage. Suddenly, bored journalists,
‘conservationists’, apologists, hunters, editors and policemen
were all qualified to comment on the impending demise of the New Forest.
It looks and sounds like a totally reckless act and who would dare to
say otherwise? I will!
residents armed and protected themselves; they were warned to be vigilant.
Some kept themselves and their children indoors as the murderous mink
“rampaged” across the Hampshire countryside, as you might
envisage a swarm of locusts, devouring everything in their path. One woman
reportedly barricaded herself in and blocked up the chimney. It would
be funny if it weren’t quite so serious. For the hated mink: small,
cute, furry meat-eaters, who are far less scary and dangerous in the real
world than the big unattractive hairy ones that keep animals in cages,
even the RSPCA were rounding them up. Even! Given their track record,
this should have come as no surprise.
back into the filthy, stinking hole the captured mink went with the RSPCA
inspectors. Back to where animals had been dying of septicaemia from huge
open untreated wounds, where live animals existed alongside dead ones,
displayed stereotypical behaviour, had limbs missing and broken. Crow
Hill Farm was a wretched factory farm festering with the living, the dead
and the dying mink packed into cages with maggots, flies and shit everywhere
and the most unbearable stench in the air.
RSPCA inspector had previously visited the farm and found nothing wrong,
while animal rights activists were on site covertly monitoring. MAFF officials
had made routine visits and found nothing that bothered them either. You
would have to be asleep to do this! It was only after video evidence was
personally delivered to RSPCA headquarters that someone there finally
acted, but it was too little and too late.
horrors that befell so many beautiful fur-bearing creatures in that place
and others like it are too awful to put adequately into words. New Labour
politicians knew of the situation, said they would act to end the trade
and then, of course, didn’t. I don’t vote for any of them
and that makes me feel very angry, so how must those feel who voted for
their promises feel? And to whom should they complain? And what about
the mink? That was a primary concern for a few deep thinkers.
obviously wasn’t some “mindless act of terrorism” as
it was referred to by some. “It was planned a long time ago. We
were waiting to see what the government would do first. If politicians
won’t do what they’re told to do then it’s time people
stopped talking to them,” said one of the unrepentant raiders when
quizzed. His theory was that, while the released mink would surely predate
on any other suitably sized wild creature they could catch, there would
be a lot more suffering and death in the long term if the cages weren’t
emptied once and for always. This was about forcing the issue; it was
a mindful act. Shocking.
wasn’t the ALF that had caused the growth of the population to around
100,000 wild mink in the UK. Ask the fur farmers - they brought them here
from North America at the end of the 1920s. It was another 20 years before
mink settled the British countryside and began to breed in the wild. Some
made their own way out of the farms, while others - shed loads of them
- were deliberately released by their erstwhile captors when the pelt
profits dropped off. With otters struggling due to modern poisonous farming
practices and hunting, and polecats persecuted to near extinction by gamekeepers
of the nineteenth century, there was a niche in the countryside. So not
only have mink been forced to live here where they clearly aren’t
wanted, but in cages! Can’t be right! The government agreed the
practice should be banned, then did nothing. This kind of unhelpful, erratic
behaviour, or lying, doesn’t instil confidence and encourages people
to force the issue, usually by controversial methods.
of the “Ecological disaster” which the Sunday Times forecast
or the RSPCA’s “Environmental disaster”? The Guardian
said the mink were threatening eighty square miles of countryside and
the Mirror ran the headline: “Mink Go Wild in the Killing Fields”
which it qualified with absurd notions about mink on a “countryside
killing spree”, leaving a trail of destruction up to five miles
away from the farm. The police warned: “Young children, especially
babies, should not be left alone, certainly not outside. They will attack
babies, young children, cats, dogs, chickens and they will go for the
In The Independent’s view, the released mink were: “The Four
Letter Word Striking Fear Into The Heart of Hampshire… stalking
wildlife in the New Forest, slipping over the border into Dorset. The
mink have no shame, and no mercy.” Blimey! Interspersed in this
story telling was the token sprinkling of ‘concern’ that not
all the poor creatures were equipped to survive in the wild and would
die. Was it really lost on them all that the very purpose of their animal’s
confinement was to facilitate their premature death? At Crow Hill prior
to the raid, one of the workers was covertly filmed swinging mink by the
tail and smashing their heads the ground to kill them.
of the papers carried the story of Ian Sturrock, who had apparently watched
in horror as a mink had leapt onto his 18 month-old sons buggy. Strangely
enough - given the fact that that Sturrock had feared for his baby son’s
life - the article was accompanied by a photograph taken by Sturrock of
the moment the mink - if that’s what it was - laid down next to
the baby. Surely a doting dad would have leapt to the rescue of his son,
if the animal was so dangerous? Was the photo worth a few quid? Or 15
minutes of fame? And dead or alive, was the animal actually doing the
child any harm? Obviously not, yet the clear inference was that our children
were in danger. Why? Any previous mink attacks to learn from? Another
one of the more fantastic stories - and there were bundles to choose from
- came from an angler who claimed he was attacked by a gang of mink while
he sat peacefully trying to impale fish on his hook. “Mink Mug Angler
For His Bait” was the story in The Telegraph. “Suddenly these
dark shapes sprang out of the bushes nearby and jumped on me. They were
all over me. There were at least four of them, if not more. They were
running all over my legs, my feet and trying to climb on my seat. I was
screaming. I picked up my landing net to try and beat them off. I hit
a couple but it didn’t seem to affect them. They were fearless.
I battled with them for about a minute”, alleged fearless fish hunter
John Stone, an hour or so after taking the magic mushrooms. The maligned
mink’s reputation was sealed, it seemed, to be regurgitated ad infinitum.
mink were shot and killed or trapped and returned to the farm. Only a
minority escaped; perhaps a few hundred survived the initial break out
and not all would have made it thought the winter. Some mink are probably
still free and making a better job, I’ll warrant, of living in harmony
with the countryside than most modern humans.
was so much forced concern in these news reports about the mink killing
other animals and then taking over the world, that the message in all
of this was forgotten. The double standards were unfathomable. Presumably
it didn’t take a mathematician to work out the equation: the released
mink had been fattened in their cages on the bodies of other animals,
killed cruelly by people far more ruthless than the four who’d opened
their cages, not to mention the fact that the mink themselves were destined
for slaughter if they stayed. All of them! At one Devon fur farm alone,
26,000 caged mink were fed eight tons of chicken, fish, cooked cereals,
vitamins, liver and wheatgerm every single day. That is a lot of suffering
and a lot of waste: worth a few angry comments, surely? And what of the
utterly senseless carnage by gamekeepers on three hundred shooting estates
where millions of animals and birds are blasted with shotguns, caught
in snares and poisoned for a sport? Lets talk cruel killing!
on the one hand were allegedly on a rampaging killing spree throughout
the countryside, or conversely on the other hand starving and fighting
to death. So moved were the raiders by this hysterical media reaction,
that a week later they returned to Crow Hill Farm and opened a load more
cages to release 1000 more mink. Or was it simply that there were still
mink in cages to be released? Sometimes there are far more important things
to worry about than what others say, but the fact that so many people
were talking about mink farming was primarily important because, for all
their pre-election wooing promises, the government had stopped talking
of banning fur farms.
few of the many who had complained about the mink liberation had actually
done anything to stop the cruelty and suffering in these farms, and the
barrage of criticisms was an obscene exaggeration of the true impact free
mink would have on the countryside. Happily, there were one or two voices
of reason in the hysterical onslaught of terror tales following the raids.
Perhaps not an obvious commentary point but Ben Sharratt of Motor Caravan
magazine (Jan 1999), was considered in his opinion: “I was under
the impression that the mink was a small but aggressive carnivore with
a penchant for voles and young birds, before I read in the paper and heard
on the telly that it is in actual fact a baby-killing, dog-slaying fighting
machine with mean eyes, a cold heart and relentlessly thuggish tendencies!”
Vidal, the Guardian’s environmental correspondent, agreed that “The
mink got a ludicrous reception from the press. They are solitary animals
that mark out territory a mile apart from each other and can travel miles
in a day in search of food, ensuring a well dispersed population. They
aren’t stupid!” He quoted a New Forest District Council report,
two months later, which stated that only 1000 mink were still on the run
and that these had all gone to ground with little damage reported. Anyone
else notice that?
are the victims of fashion, economic pressure, Political expediency, scientific
theory, conservation policy, moral principle, ignorance and prejudice
- all ideas with guns. We should show these creatures some respect - so
said Paul Evans of the British Association Of Nature Conservationists
in 1998. Lots of studies have been commissioned into the mink population
and its effects on other wildlife. These have repeatedly shown that mink
have not caused a demonstrable impact on other species. Not even to the
endangered water vole, whose biggest problem, as always, is man, who continues
to wreak destruction on their habitat by overgrazing, grubbing up hedgerows,
removing reedy river edges, setting up flood defence and drainage schemes,
building houses and roads and hunting the river banks for mink with dog
packs. The same goes for the ‘game’ birds, whom many gun-toting
farmers are keen to protect from mink. The biggest threat to the lives
of these and other birds is man, whose keen observation has led him to
decide that rabbits are vermin too, and therefore must be exterminated!
Somehow, their keen observations missed something: rabbits are preyed
upon by the mink and of course the fox and the occasional raptor and if
left alone, would maybe, just maybe control their own populations. Its
radical, almost extreme thinking, I know.
moved to act, an RSPCA inspection team visited Crow Hill Farm, with the
police in November 1997. Equipped with nine hours of footage filmed covertly
by Respect for Animals over a 19-month period. They were availed of every
detail they needed to facilitate their tour of the 4000 cages in the numerous
sheds. They had the exact location of cages with dead bodies, the injured
and mutilated mink and of the overcrowded cages containing up to seven
fully-grown mink, which were meant to hold two or three animals. Post-mortem
reports from dead animals taken during the investigation revealed their
awful suffering. One caged mink had a bare bone for a back leg, the result
of a fight. Another taken for post-mortem had nothing but sawdust in its
stomach. Others had died from untreated severe injuries. The RSPCA took
more bodies for post-mortem examination and killed off the more seriously
injured animals. Intriguingly a break-in occurred at the veterinary surgery
where the corpses were being stored over the Xmas holiday and a number
of them were stolen, the evidence thus removed. Nothing else was taken.
Who on Earth would have wanted to do that?
was all there in black and white for the officials to sort out. They had,
of course, each been at Crow Hill Farm before to inspect the conditions
about which so many had complained, but somehow, each time, they’d
missed the endless trail of horrors they were looking for. How is this
possible? Even a cursory look at the footage or the farm itself would
tell a moron that things were far from ‘acceptable’, or even
legal, but it took the animal liberators to expose what the RSPCA and
government inspectors had failed to see. Or maybe just refused to see.
This could not be passed off as incompetence or an accident.
therein lay a way out for MAFF, ironically. They couldn’t be seen
to rely in court on evidence obtained illegally by the animal activists
so they cut a deal with the farmer, who initially had 29 summonses issued
against him. The conclusion was that 73 year-old Terence Smith, who had
farmed mink for 50 years and described himself when interviewed following
the ALF raid as “an animal lover”, got off with little more
than a scarred reputation as the 29 charges against him were dropped.
He pleaded guilty on behalf of the company T. T. Smith (Mink) Ltd to 15
counts of cruelty and breaches of animal welfare rules and was fined £5,000
with £15,000 costs. The fall guy, Ian Stroud, 43, the ogre employed
by Smith to do the killing, pleaded guilty to six counts of cruelty to
mink after he was filmed smashing their heads against the cages to subdue
them when they resisted his attempt to be gassed. He was given no more
than 150 hours community service and told to pay a token £100 costs
by New Forest Magistrates, who said without a whiff of irony that: “Society
in this country is always going to treat very seriously cruelty to other
living creatures.” Allowing him to walk away with a smile after
inflicting such terrible suffering and receiving no deterrent punishment
is not the way to persuade those drawn to the ALF to down tools now, is
weeks after the sentencing of the Hampshire farmer, and while the mink
furore rumbled on, it was stoked some more when Kelbain Mink Farm at Onneley
in Staffordshire, one of the more secure of the baker’s dozen left,
was visited by ALF raiders. Here they set about 3,500 cages with bolt
cutters, freeing 8,000 mink, 3,000 of whom made good their escape from
the compound. Four days later, around 400 were said by the farmer to be
still unaccounted for. He estimated a street value of £50,000. Just
a few days earlier, breeding cards had been removed from cages, but the
intruders were disturbed before completing the job. Returning the night
following the liberation raid, the farmers wife’s £18,000
Audi and his van were doused in paint stripper outside their house.
is still horrendous out there,” complained Len Kelsall, the ruffled
60 year-old farmer and Chairman of the Fur Breeders Association, “It
looks like a battle field”. We’ve been telling them this for
years! “It is just starting to hit me how bad this is”. Len
went on. “It is terrorism and cruelty at its worse and the government
must act to stop it.” Indeed.
a monumental meeting of minds, both the Chair of the FBA and the liberators
had come to agree that the Labour government was to blame. “They
made an election promise to abolish mink farming but have done nothing
more,” sulked Len, who was sounding more and more like his adversaries
with every comment but also had his eye on compensation. Conversely, Mark
Glover, a serial ALF-basher of the group Respect for Animals who documented
and exposed the awful scenes in Hampshire, claimed that the liberation
of the mink had been, “an extraordinary thing to do”, given
the Government’s pledge to ban fur farming. The ALF raiders said
they considered it their duty. He reckoned the outcome for the mink was,
“equally as bleak outside” as in the cages on the farm, somewhat
ironically echoed in a statement by Robert Morgan, Chief Executive of
the British Fur Trade Association (explaining in the Observer in June
1997 why mink, who naturally spend 60% of their life in water, are better
off in wire cages): If mink have access to swimming water then they would
get wet and probably get cold and die.
give them hair driers. Sure, out there there’s no regular serving
of gruel and no terraced housing, but wild animals tend to struggle through
and, given the option, few would choose a brief frustrated life in a cage
and a certain brutal death over taking a chance on reaching their second
birthday in the countryside.
the following spring, Labour MP Maria Eagle’s Bill to outlaw fur
farming in the UK had gained cross party support and had the backing of
the National Farmers Union and even the Fur Breeders Association. All
but one of the remaining mink farmers were happy to be bought out of business
with compensation payments and be spared the hassle that modern life was
bringing. Such an opt-out would also save them the cost of a proposed
legislation forcing farmers to spend big money on increased security measures.
This was a move which had been prompted by the recent raids, which also
saw the Government ratchet up the cost of farm licences from £115
to £630 a few months after.
would be expected, Conservative MPs, who tabled over thirty amendments,
talked the Bill out of time. But early 2003 the legislation finally reached
the statute books and made what was left of the fur farming industry in
the UK illegal. There are no longer any mink or fox farms operating in
the UK. A significant milestone. And not the only one.