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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Anatomy of an animal rights protest
by Paula Dear
BBC News Online

"We never give in and we always win!"

The rallying cry on the website of animal rights protest group SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) brims with confidence.

Protestors campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences
SHAC has been trying to close Huntingdon Life Sciences for five years

Animal rights protesters - some of whom are fighting moves that would impose a "no harassment" zone around Oxford University - may have reason to feel satisfied.

Their tactics have often led to success and as high profile protest movements go, theirs is no wallflower.

The battle between protesters and the pharmaceutical industry continues to rage, with the latter claiming such actions are jeopardising Britain's economy and the future of medical research.

But how do protest groups such as SHAC manage to keep up such sustained action?

What is involved in running a campaign of this nature, day after day, year in year out, and how have they adapted their methods to ensure their impact endures?

If we had gone down and protested outside HLS (Huntingdon Life Sciences) every day for the last five years we would have got nowhere
Greg Avery, SHAC

Evolution, flexibility and focus are the secrets to SHAC's success, according to campaign organiser Greg Avery, 36, who runs the protest with wife Natasha and three other full-time activists.

"The government tries to bring in legislation to ban tactics that aren't even happening any more. Things are constantly evolving anyway.

"For example, we haven't done a home demonstration for about three years and now they are trying to ban it."

For SHAC the lion's share of their time is spent doing research in order to hit their target Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) where it hurts - in the pocket.

'Make point politely'

"Our philosophy is to go for one company at a time, and go for its finances. If we had gone down and protested outside HLS every day for the last five years we would have got nowhere," he told BBC News Online.

The campaign also helps activists and supporters to focus their efforts, by providing a list of daily actions on their website.

Today, Tuesday 5 October, each supporter is asked to call a company that sells "equipment used to kill animals at HLS" and the phone number is given.

"Make your point politely," urges SHAC, which suggests that anyone who does not want to be identified should call from a public phone box using the 141 prefix to "protect their privacy".

"Whether they are a teenager or a pensioner in their 80s, this is something people can do from their own locality," says Greg.

Animal rights protesters
Protesters say animal experimental is cruel and unnecessary

"Too many campaigns just send out begging letters asking for money, but we are giving people something practical to do."

Their ultimate aim - to close HLS - is yet to be achieved, but they say their tactics have succeeded in driving away investors, insurers and suppliers.

Most refuse to discuss their reasons but when Barclays bank cut its ties with HLS it said it blamed animal rights "extremists", saying it couldn't guarantee the safety of its staff and their families.

For SHAC, leaks from inside companies, and meetings with contacts help its cause.

"So many people are unhappy about their company's involvement with HLS. They email us, print documents, and sometimes arrange to meet us.

"We are also always on the lookout for the chance to do undercover work," he adds.

We enjoy a great deal of support out there, not just from activists but from members of the public
Mel Broughton, Speak

Meanwhile the campaign keeps on top of changes in legislation, with the help of an activist with a law degree, so it can keep its work within the law.

A regularly updated document offering legal guidance to activists stretches to 44 pages.

"We are not responsible for the actions of other groups. But the government and companies are trying to curtail peaceful protests, and people are getting frustrated and acting outside the law," continues Greg.

"There has been a long tradition of protest in this country - what is wrong with standing outside somewhere with a megaphone?"

For smaller groups, keeping up the fight can be more of a struggle.

Forty-four-year-old Mel Broughton fits his day job around his protest work, which means waving goodbye to a social life and any prospect of time off or holidays away.

Protesters outside Oxford University
Speak organised a protest at Oxford University in the summer

But his work for Speak - which started out campaigning against a centre for primate experiments in Cambridge - comes first.

"I don't begrudge it. This is too important," said Mel, who works as a landscape gardener to pay the bills.

One of only a handful of voluntary organisers, Mel and his colleagues spend the bulk of their time dealing with mail, updating their website, printing leaflets, and answering requests from the media.

"In the last few months there has been an extraordinary amount of media interest, I can be doing up to 12 interviews a day."

All the campaigning work is done from their own homes, and they rely on donations and plenty of good will to get it done.


Speak - which Mel stresses only engages in legal forms of protest - also attends and organises meetings and demonstrations, and can spend a lot of time dealing with court cases and legal issues.

As we talk he and colleagues are preparing to mount their own legal defences against Oxford University's attempt to forbid them from coming within 35m of its buildings, among other restrictions.

"This injunction has taken up a huge amount of time. As a campaign we are not in a position to hire barristers, but there are people we can get advice from."

While Mel is no stranger to direct action - he was jailed for it in the past - he believes much of the success of the group is simply down to public support.

"It's difficult to say what the most effective tactic is. Ours remain lawful, but I accept there has been direct action connected with animal rights campaigns for a long time, and people have argued it had been extremely influential.

"I'd say the reason we are successful is partly because we enjoy a great deal of support out there, not just from activists but from members of the public.

"There's no doubt the whole question of vivisection is something people do feel a great deal of disquiet about now."

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