There was a strange criminal case reported in the Telegraph last weekend which exposed both the workings of the animal rights movement and two of its most unpleasant activists. The prosecution involved an abattoir in Kent which had been broken into by ‘investigator’ Ed Shephard to place cameras on the instruction of notorious extremist Luke Steele who was working for a group called Animal Aid.
The charges brought against the company that ran the abattoir were serious, if not at the worst end of the scale, but the court never got to test the evidence against it because of the criminal activity involved in collecting it, and the dishonesty of Shephard and Steele.
The judge found Shephard, previously a long term employee of the League Against Cruel Sports who has appeared as a witness against many hunts, "less than honest, evasive and defensive". He was equally scathing about Steele who has a long criminal record including an 18 month prison sentence for animal rights related harassment and is a prominent anti-grouse shooting campaigner. The judge found that despite Steele’s claims that “he had matured and would no longer use illegal means to get evidence he wishes. His evidence as a whole left me sceptical that his protestation is truthful“.
He concluded that Steele had sacked a previous investigator and employed Shephard instead because he would "bend the rules" and summed up by saying: “I cannot but be driven to the conclusion that they agreed (off the record) to use all means possible to gather the evidence, it was essentially justified because the end (exposing animal cruelty, they say) justified the means in their minds”, which is as good a summing up of the mindset of the animal rights extremist as it is possible to find.
The judge therefore ruled that the evidence gathered by Steele and Shephard must be excluded and the case against the abattoir collapsed. Animal Aid argued that the “British justice system had woefully failed” an interesting claim when a court has just found that your employees carried out criminal acts, but this ‘failure’ raises another important issue.
For over a decade the Alliance has been highlighting the very dubious activity of animal rights groups carrying out covert surveillance for the purpose of gathering evidence without any of the checks or oversights required by the police and statutory bodies. Groups like Animal Aid, which regularly carry out such surveillance, know perfectly well that there is a risk that the courts will exclude it. Worse, the Crown Prosecution Service continues to accept such evidence from organisations it has an ongoing relationship with, without requiring proper authorisation. This creates a huge legal mess and a situation where people who should never have been subject to surveillance have their privacy breached, whilst others who might have committed an offence escape punishment when evidence is excluded.
As the judge in this case found animal rights activists will use all means possible to gather evidence against their chosen targets. The police, other statutory investigating bodies and the Crown Prosecution Service are encouraging such behaviour by continuing to accept evidence from unauthorised covert surveillance operations. Until they insist on proper processes before accepting such evidence animal rights extremists and others will continue to exploit this obvious loophole.