A man found guilty at the end of the longest animal rights trial
in legal history has launched an appeal, claiming the judge should not have
heard the case because of his interest in blood sports
Kirtley, 42, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his part
in a prolonged campaign against Sequani Ltd by Judge Peter Ross at Coventry
Crown Court earlier this year.
case, which has been unreported until now, has become a cause célèbre
among anti-vivisection campaigners after the activist became the first person
to stand trial accused of conspiring to interfere with an animal research
establishment under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.
to the custodial sentence, he received a five-year antisocial behaviour
order, which will come into effect on his release. But Kirtley's supporters
claim it was impossible for him to receive a fair trial after the judge
disclosed in a letter to lawyers that "one of my hobbies is game shooting".
submissions ahead of the case, Judge Ross concluded: "I do not consider
that I should disqualify myself from hearing this case and believe that
I can give all parties the fair hearing that they are entitled to."
He enclosed a copy of his Who's Who entry detailing his background interests
as a keen shot, smallholder and fisherman.
Schwarz, Kirtley's solicitor, said yesterday that the judge's hobbies would
form a key plank of the appeal against the sentence and conviction. Campaigners
say that the case raises serious concerns over the right to legitimate protest
following the introduction of the Act in 2005.
at the conclusion in May of the 18-week trial, Detective Inspector Dave
Williams of West Mercia Police described Kirtley, of Malvern, Worcestershire,
as "a dedicated animal rights activist who devoted a significant part
of his life to leading an organised, systematic and sustained campaign to
target Sequani Ltd with the ultimate aim of closing the company down".
say the prosecution failed to establish that Kirtley was guilty of anything
more serious than running a website publicising legal protests.
investigation, Operation Tornado, which involved 120 officers, and the subsequent
trial cost more than £4.5m. Of 14 people charged in connection with
the long-running protests at Sequani, in Ledbury, Worcestershire, seven
stood trial. Only Kirtley and a second man, Daniel Griffiths, 39, who admitted
two charges of interfering with the contractual relationships of an animal
research establishment, were convicted. Griffiths received a 30-week jail
term suspended for two years.
said he was deeply concerned over the implications of the case. "This
is an unfair law which deviates from normal principles of criminal justice
and the result is that what many people might see as conventional protesting
becomes criminalised at all levels," he said. He said that the jury
was also prevented from seeing evidence of the work carried out at Sequani
after it was ruled inadmissible.
company, which assesses the safety of healthcare products and has been the
target of demonstrations for nearly two decades, said it welcomed the use
of the Act, which it said "sent out a clear message... to the extremists
that their behaviour would not be tolerated in a democratic society".
for the Judicial Communications Department, which represents judges, said:
"We cannot comment on matters that are the subject of appeal."
two men involved in the case
serving a four-and-a-half-year prison term at HMP Blakenhurst. The 42-year
old from Malvern, Worcestershire is a lifelong opponent of animal testing
who has also campaigned against shooting. Supporters say prosecution witnesses
conceded that while Kirtley had been present at the demonstrations he had
been "silent and peaceful" throughout. In the appeal submitted
last month, lawyers claim Judge Ross should not have presided over the case
to "prevent the appearance of bias".
Honour Judge Peter Ross
55-year-old former director of the Office for Supervision of Solicitors
has been a circuit judge since 2004 and hears most of his cases at Coventry
Crown Court. Judge Ross's entry in Who's Who details his hobbies as "shooting,
smallholding, gardening and fishing". In a letter issued during the
trial, he said he considered his interest did not disqualify him from presiding
over a fair trial.