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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July 2005, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
The siege of Darley Oaks Farm
By Adam Warner
BBC Money Programme

Bomb threat
The Halls were hit by a systematic campaign of intimidation

For five years, animal rights activists have been waging a guerrilla war against one business to shut it down.

Their target - Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, where guinea pigs are bred for scientific research.

The farm's owners, workers, and any business in the area which has had contact with them have all come under attack from animal rights activists.

The local pub, the fuel supplier and even the farm's domestic cleaner have been targeted by violent extremists. Worst of all, the remains of the owner's mother-in-law have been dug up from her grave.

Frontal attack

It all started back in 1999, when John Hall and his brother Christopher's farm was raided by the Animal Liberation Front. They claimed that the guinea pigs bred there were kept in appalling conditions - a claim denied by the Halls.

Protesters also objected to the animals' use in laboratory experiments. A campaign was set up, called Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs, to force the Halls to close down their business.

John Hall
Mr Hall says he is prepared to work with "civilised" activists
In parallel with regular demonstrations outside the farm, ALF activists began a systematic campaign of intimidation. First, threats were made against the Hall family and farm property was attacked.

When they refused to capitulate, activists then targeted their employees. And when that failed, a further escalation saw the farm's suppliers under attack, in an all-out effort to force the farm's closure.

Living in fear

What ensued was a violent campaign of intimidation that has seen people besieged at night inside their own homes.

Damaged sign
Protestors have used graffiti to get their message across
They have had bricks thrown through their windows, their cars paint-stripped and buildings have been arson attacked. Smear campaigns alleging paedophilia, death threats, even threats against young children have left people traumatised and living in fear.

One victim told the programme, "I'd class them as terrorists. When we can't sleep in our bed at night without fear of somebody coming and doing something to the house, what makes them any different?"

But it's not just the business and those connected with it that have been targeted. Roads and beauty spots nearby have been daubed with abusive graffiti, local pubs have been attacked and explosives let off at night have left local residents sleepless.

Over 450 separate incidents in the last two years alone have left an entire community under siege.

Body snatchers

In October last year, the campaign culminated in the desecration of a country churchyard and the theft of human remains.

Dug up grave
News of the grave-robbing was carried nationwide
The grave of Gladys Hammond, the mother-in-law of Christopher Hall, was dug up and her remains stolen, an incident that shocked the nation and made the farm front-page news. Staffordshire Police launched an investigation to track down the body snatchers.

But the grave-robbing had an unexpected outcome. A local businessman, Peter Clamp, decided to take action to put an end to the campaign. He took legal action against the activists, aiming to limit protests outside the farm and protect the local community.

Peter Clamp applied to the High Court in London for an injunction. If granted, protests would be restricted to once a week, and a 27 square mile exclusion zone would be imposed around the farm.

Any activist caught inside it would be committing a criminal offence and could face imprisonment.


Peter Clamp's appeal failed, however. Although the judge condemned violent attacks on the farm as a campaign of terrorism and imposed some restrictions on protests, he did not allow the large exclusion zone.

Since January of this year, two more employees have resigned from the farm. But John Hall and his family are determined to carry on with their business.

"If the animal-rights people worked within the rules and regulations of peaceful protesting I don't think we would have a problem with them," he says.

"But they go beyond those legal limits and cause criminal damage and intimidation which quite frankly in a civilised society is unacceptable."

It is now nine months since the grave desecration. The campaign to close the farm continues, and the remains of Gladys Hammond have still not been recovered.

A special Money Programme, "The Siege of Darley Oaks Farm", was shown on BBC TWO at 10pm on Monday 25 July.


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