Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: As some of you are all too aware there are a small number of people operating under the banner of ‘animal rights’ who believe that almost any action is justifiable in pursuit of their ends. I have never been able to understand how anyone could conclude that grave desecration, arson, violence or harassment are legitimate responses to debates about animal welfare, but then I am probably foolish in trying to deploy logic to the thinking of the animal rights movement.
Thankfully the number of people physically involved in activity like ‘hunt sabotage’ is small and certainly less than 20 years ago, although that does not make the experience of those who are targeted any more pleasant. We continue to work with police forces to address this behaviour through existing legislation and lobby government to improve the law where necessary, but the growth area for animal rights activism is in the ether, rather than in the field.
The internet has brought great improvements to all our lives. It has also, however, created an opportunity for extremists to gather online in numbers they could never muster out in the fresh air. We were pleased therefore that on Monday the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, published new guidelines aimed at tackling online abuse, harassment and intimidation via social media. The new guidelines for prosecutors make clear that those who encourage others to participate in online harassment campaigns can face charges of encouraging an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007. Examples of potentially criminal behaviour include making available personal information, for example a home address, telephone number or bank details.
Last month Mark Doggrell and his family were subject to a campaign of exactly this sort of harassment and abuse following the acquittal of his case by a jury at Taunton Crown Court. His private address and wife’s telephone number were published on animal rights websites and Facebook pages. It is wrong that this happens and wrong that the individuals involved are able to hide behind anonymity.
Over the past few years there have been a growing number of cases of individuals being harassed and abused online. This can vary from death threats to pathetic campaigns on websites like Trip Advisor aimed at pubs and hotels that host hunts and shoots. None of this behaviour is acceptable, but very rarely has any action been taken against the perpetrators of this abuse. These new guidelines should be a catalyst for closing down online harassment by animal rights activists and we will work to ensure that the authorities deploy the law as vigorously in defence of our community as for others.
Follow Tim on Twitter @CA_TimB