COMPANIES UNDER pressure from animal rights protesters won a landmark High Court victory on Monday of this week which paves the way for the seizure of activists’ funds.
The unprecedented ruling gave Huntingdon Life Sciences permission to empty the bank account of pressure group London Animal Action, heralding the enforcement of a new tactic against the assets owned by protesters.
It is thought to be the first time that the finances of an animal rights organisation have been appropriated by one of its targets.
Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), Britain’s largest research laboratory, has suffered relentless intimidation from animal rights activists over the years, which has included assaults on several members of staff, including Managing Director Brian Cass.
HLS has run up a bill of nearly £300,000 in bringing injunctions against protesters, after staff and directors endured hate mail, harassment, assault and noisy demonstrations outside their homes.
The court orders have created exclusion zones around its Cambridgeshire premises and the homes of staff, contractors and their families.
But the company is trying to retrieve its costs by seizing the funds of the groups which campaign to have it closed.
Late last week, London Animal Action failed in its High Court appeal against a wider order that allowed HLS to seek costs from a number of individuals and animal rights groups. HLS has now gained possession of the contents of its bank account, totalling just under £7,000, and was also awarded a further costs order of £9,000.
The action group argued that the earlier order was unlawful, because the group has no formal membership or elected officers and is an unincorporated association, which does not normally exist in law.
In dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Mackay said: “The novelty of the form of order in this case is plain and the need for it is obvious.” He added that none of the group’s individual members had come forward to protest that he or she should not be liable.
The group was given leave to appeal against the £9,000 costs order, which in turn gives HLS the right to pursue the finances of individual members.
Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, the lawyer who represents HLS, said after the judgment: “This is a breakthrough. It is the first time that a claimant has been able to attack the general funds of a group like this.
“Hopefully this will open the door to industry taking funds from animal rights groups who are unlawfully harassing them.”
The judgment names Claire Persey as having instructed a representative to act on behalf of the group in court.
The judge said: “Miss Persey says that it does not have any formal membership or elected officers and is not incorporated, but does have a website and bank account and has monthly meetings at which lawful protest activity is discussed . . . She does not state where the money has come from.”
The group was formed in 1994 with the intention of “closing every fur shop in London”. In 2001 the High Court banned Miss Persey from approaching one fur shop or the homes of its employees.
The court was told that she and other activists had chanted obscenities, abused customers and directors and smashed windows.
Monday's ruling comes two months after HLS forced the leaders of another high-profile animal rights campaign into bankruptcy.
It won a county court judgment against Greg Avery, his wife Natasha and his former wife Heather James, who founded Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, after demands for payment of costs were ignored.
Mr Avery said at the time: “They’re definitely not going to get a penny of it. I always tell people getting into animal rights to make themselves asset-free. We don’t own anything.”