Feeds

Organised crime law crushes animal rights duo

Sledgehammer meets nut

Security for virtualized datacentres

Four and a half years in jail for “conspiring to interfere with contractual obligations”. That was the sentence handed down to animal rights activist, Sean Kirtley, on Friday, in what is claimed to be the first contested trial under the Serious and Organised Crime Act 2005 (SOCA).

Kirtley was found guilty of co-ordinating the efforts of a small group dedicated to disrupting the activities of Sequani Ltd, a medical research organisation based in Herefordshire. Co-defendant David Griffiths received a 30 week jail sentence: four others were found not guilty.

According to West Mercia Constabulary, this was one of the longest trials they had ever been involved in. “Operation Tornado” at one point involved 120 officers plus other national police agencies, and is claimed by critics to have cost at least £4m.

SOCA (section 145) makes it an offence for an individual to attempt to persuade a third party not to honour their contractual obligations to an “animal research organisation”.

To be found guilty under this section, your persuasion must either involve criminal or “tortious” acts. The latter is a principle already enacted within ASBOs: if you commit a civil offence in pursuit of your goal, it is magically transformed, by law, into a criminal one.

There is one apparent let-out: simple persuasion is OK. Bear in mind, however, that harassment – a criminal offence – requires no more than two attempts to speak to an individual in circumstances that might cause them distress or alarm. If your message is that their work is immoral – the chances are that it could be harassment.

Animal rights activists also have the unique distinction of being the first to be prosecuted under harassment legislation.

So was this an appropriate use of police time and resources? Is SOCA the right way to proceed?

Animal rights activists are no strangers to extreme direct action. The recent theft of a body in order to put pressure on the owners of a guinea pig farm is witness to that.

West Mercia Constabulary accuse the defendants of “protests and demonstrations, harassment and intimidation [...], criminal damage, assault, annoying communications and letter writing campaigns”. They also “developed and managed a website”.

This is an interesting catalogue.

Political activism used to involve attempts to persuade others of the rightness of your views. Recent legislation – not least the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - has made such simple protest far harder. It is to be hoped that the police do not believe that annoying communications, letter writing and website development deserve time in prison.

A check on the web shows that the anti-Sequani campaign has posted names and addresses of suppliers to that company, together with a suggestion that supporters write to them “politely” and ask them to withdraw their support.

Some suppliers did receive phone calls and letters. It is alleged that managers at Sequani were followed home and verbally abused outside their homes. At time of writing, no further detail has been received from Sequani Ltd or the authorities – although the former has welcomed the action taken by West Mercia Constabulary.

There is a very fine line between legitimate political protest, and intimidation.

A much larger question is why the Government feels the need to legislate so specifically in respect of animal rights activists. Or perhaps this is just the latest loophole – which will be closed in due course by making the same law apply to all protest movements. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Scrapping the Human Rights Act: What about privacy and freedom of expression?
Justice minister's attack to destroy ability to challenge state
WHY did Sunday Mirror stoop to slurping selfies for smut sting?
Tabloid splashes, MP resigns - but there's a BIG copyright issue here
Hey Brit taxpayers. You just spent £4m on Central London ‘innovation playground’
Catapult me a Mojito, I feel an Digital Innovation coming on
Google hits back at 'Dear Rupert' over search dominance claims
Choc Factory sniffs: 'We're not pirate-lovers - also, you publish The Sun'
EU to accuse Ireland of giving Apple an overly peachy tax deal – report
Probe expected to say single-digit rate was unlawful
Inequality increasing? BOLLOCKS! You heard me: 'Screw the 1%'
There's morality and then there's economics ...
While you queued for an iPhone 6, Apple's Cook sold shares worth $35m
Right before the stock took a 3.8% dive amid bent and broken mobe drama
EU probes Google’s Android omerta again: Talk now, or else
Spill those Android secrets, or we’ll fine you
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.