Thames Valley Police 'Wage a Dirty War’ on the SPEAK Campaign


On 20 June 2006, SPEAK supporters held a demonstration outside Oxford University’s Encaenia Ceremony, as they had done for the previous two years, in order to inform the many attendees of the ceremony and tourists drawn to the pomp and ceremony about the horrors being perpetrated against innocent, sentient beings behind ‘Oxford’s Dreaming Spires’, something they wouldn’t find on their invitations or in the guidebooks.

Much support was received on these previous occasions from members of the public who came to witness the procession of dignitaries entering the Sheldonian Theatre, and also from those going inside. In fact in 2005, one robed member of the exiting procession broke away from it to come over and shake a protestor’s hand. The level of support was clearly not to the liking of the University and their friends in Thames Valley Police and in 2006 they decided to try and silence protestors by placing unlawful restrictions on the protest which led to sixteen arrests: five on the day and eleven in the following few weeks. Seeing this as an opportunity to try to shut the campaign up for good, they barred those charged from the city of Oxford until their trial, nearly a year later. Throughout that year, the defendants continued campaigning, refusing to be bullied and intimidated away, holding regular demonstrations on the Oxford Ring Road.

Just two weeks before the trial was due to begin, the transcript of a tape recording arrived at the defendants’ solicitors’ offices. The tape came from a Dictaphone that the police tactical advisor on the day, PC Travi, had inadvertently left running in his pocket, the transcript of which ran to twenty six pages containing a wealth of abuse and admissions of underhand behaviour against campaigners. The language used to describe the protestors on the tape (some of which had been described as ‘inaudible’ in the transcript but was only too audible when the tape was played in court) was bad enough, but more importantly it proved what the campaign had known for a long time: the appalling attitude of Thames Valley Police towards demonstrators; the level of collusion between the University and the police, whose claims to simply be there to ‘facilitate lawful protest’ were shown to be laughable; and the lengths that the police were willing to go to on the University’s behalf to silence and harass protestors. There was talk of ‘inciting’ members of the public to make complaints, of targeting protesters cars, ‘persecuting’ them and ‘waging a dirty war’ on them.

The influence of the University and its friends in high places are talked about, for example, ‘The problem is the protestors do not realise how powerful the University is. It’s a sleeping giant, it’s got masons, it’s got you, it’s (inaudible) influence with MP’s, masons, barristers (sic)’. The police’s desire to please the University and help them with the injunctions made clear in several places, such as, ‘Feedback from University was Billy was that they were really impressed with it (sic)’, and ‘they have also got more evidence for their review of their injunction’. The police’s total disregard for applying the law fairly alluded to throughout, for example with talk of ‘spurious’ stop and searches and inciting complaints, such as, ‘We’ll have to sort of inciting some people with a double buggy to go that they can’t get through and then put the conditions on (sic)’.

It would be bad enough if the voices on the tape were all junior officers, but they were not. Clearly heard denigrating and conspiring against the awful protestors were senior officers, including a Chief Inspector and a Superintendent who could clearly be heard saying ‘now we have to prosecute the s**t out of them’.

During the trial, which lasted the whole of May 2007, the defendants had to sit through and listen to numerous police officers witness evidence which at times the judge described as ‘inconceivable’ and ‘unreliable’; in fact there was only one officer whose evidence she seemed to place any value on. The selective memory of the witnesses was quite amazing to hear.

At the end of the trial the Judge, Justice Wright, commended the defendants for their unfailing good humour throughout, in the face of what they had to listen to, and found them all not guilty of the substantive charges of breaching Section 14 and 12 of the Public Order Act, and those who had been accused of inciting others to breach them also not guilty. Justice Wright took the unusual step of giving her verdicts before reading her judgement, in order to spare the defendants any more discomfort. This judgement ran to forty-three pages and took over an hour to read. She found that the application of the Sections had been unlawful and she was highly critical of the police, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that they had only paid ‘lip service’ to facilitating legal protest and that too little weight had been given to the rights of the protestors. She also refuted the police claims that what was heard on the tape was ‘tongue in cheek banter’, stating that it clearly went well beyond that.

From the beginning, it had never been SPEAK’s intention to turn this campaign into a battle with the police and on occasions we have been criticised for our attitude towards them. However, their attitude towards protestors and their flagrant bias towards the University and willingness to misapply the law in their favour is totally unacceptable. By protecting the animal abusers of Oxford University that are complicit in the suffering of the animals in the University’s labs and so are deserving of nothing more than our anger and disgust.

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