Animal Rights Campaigners Cleared of Public Order Offence

Press Release 20th Feb 2007
Two anti-vivisection activists were today cleared of disorderly conduct by Blackpool Magistrates’ Court. Keith Richardson, 35, from Lancaster, and Dean Cain, 25, from Ulverston, were arrested at a protest outside the Vodafone shop in Church Street, Blackpool, on 11th March 2006 and charged with insulting behaviour under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. But today Blackpool Magistrates acquitted both men.

The protest related to the construction of a new animal-experimentation laboratory by Oxford University, and drew attention to Vodafone’s financial support of Oxford University. Dr. Richardson and Mr. Cain, along with other protestors, held a banner, handed out leaflets and displayed graphic posters showing primate experiments of a type similar to those already carried out at Oxford. Police told the protestors the pictures were causing distress, but Dr. Richardson and Mr. Cain continued to hold their protest, and were arrested.

Prosecuting, Neil Addison argued that the posters of monkeys undergoing experimentation were insulting and likely to cause distress, and that the protestors had therefore fallen foul of Section 5. However, the defendants disagreed; such experiments, they argued, are routinely conducted in the UK, and it is important to inform and educate the public about animal experiments, even if the pictures do cause distress.

The defendants also pointed out that graphic and distressing pictures regularly appear in the press, and that if it was to be considered illegal to display graphic and distressing images, then a lot of the coverage of, for instance, the current war in Iraq would be illegal. Defending, Gavin Haigh said that the defendants’ human rights to freedom of expression had been breached by their arrest for taking part in a peaceful protest.

Keith Richardson said afterwards, “This whole prosecution was a farce. It was obvious all along to anyone with any common sense that we had not broken the law. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service never really believed we had committed any offences; they were just targeting us for political reasons because we are animal rights activists. What a complete waste of police time and taxpayers’ money.”

Dean Cain added, “Animal experiments are increasingly coming under attack from the public and scientists alike because they are unreliable and delay medical progress. This prosecution shows that the government do not want the public to see the truth of animal experiments. It is a desperate attempt to protect an out-dated and cruel business.”

Dr. Richardson and Mr Cain say they will be seeking legal advice on legal action that can be taken against the police for breaching their human rights.

Notes for Editors

1. The arrests of Dr. Richardson and Mr. Cain on 11th March 2006 are part of a series of 20 identical arrests under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 that took place between March and July 2006 in Blackpool and Preston during protests outside Vodafone shops. Most of the other twenty cases have already been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. Four people are due to stand trial on 19th March 2007 at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court; however, in the light of today’s result, it is likely that these charges will also be dropped.

2. Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 states that “a person is guilty of an offence if he

1. uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or

2. displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby”.

3. Article 10 (1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 states “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”.

4. The protests are linked with the campaign to stop the construction of a new animal research facility at Oxford University. More information can be found at www.speakcampaigns.org.

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