Campaigners win declaration and compensation in significant freedom to protest case
A group of animal rights campaigners have had their right to freedom of speech vindicated following successful legal action against Lancashire Constabulary.
The legal action, which has just concluded, related to a series of unlawful arrests that were made by Lancashire police in 2006. Police officers made twenty arrests for alleged public order offences at protests outside Vodafone shops in Blackpool and Preston, claiming that images on placards used by protesters were “offensive”.
The protesters were repeatedly arrested, handcuffed and detained in police cells, sometimes for long periods of time, without any evidence that a crime had been committed.
Lancashire Constabulary has now conceded in a public statement that the protests were a legitimate exercise of the protestors’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The five campaigners are to be awarded an undisclosed sum in an out of court settlement for false imprisonment and breach of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Campaigner and research scientist Dr Keith Richardson, 38, who was arrested unlawfully five times said:
“We wanted to show the truth of animal experiments to the public – this kind of research is legal and is funded with public money and the public should be informed about it. The reaction of the police to the images was a case of ‘shooting the messenger’.”
“The police were acting as censors, unlawfully preventing us from expressing our views, and from informing people about the realities of animal experimentation. As a scientist, I feel it is essential that the British public are made aware that animal testing is scientifically, and ethically, flawed. I will not be bullied into silence by the Government, animal research companies, or by the police.”
The group were represented by Anna Mazzola and Beth Handley of Hickman & Rose Solicitors. Anna Mazzola, said:
“This was a significant climb down by the police who had to accept that they had unlawfully infringed the protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and to public assembly. Hopefully this case will act as a warning to police forces that they cannot prohibit or curtail protest simply because they find it annoying or because they disagree with the beliefs being expressed”.
The protests, which highlighted financial ties between mobile phone giant Vodafone and a controversial animal testing laboratory at Oxford University, took place between February and July 2006. The protestors were accused of breaching public order legislation by showing images of primates undergoing experiments. Two of the protestors, Keith Richardson and Dean Cain, were found not guilty by Blackpool Magistrates after a three day trial in February 2007.
Mr. Cain said:
“I would like to know just how much public money has been spent on this case. On one protest, five police vehicles, including a riot van, attended when there were just three of us. The cost of detaining us, prosecuting us, and then allowing our civil claim to be dragged out for over three years, must be astronomical. The police were in the wrong all along, and the public should know just how much money is being spent stifling legitimate protest, and protecting the secrets of the animal testing industry.”
Notes for Editors
The arrests were made under Section 5 Public Order Act 1986, whereby graphic images of experiments were claimed by police to be “threatening, abusive or insulting”.
The civil claims were brought in the tort of false imprisonment and under the Human Rights Act 1998 (for breach of the right to freedom of expression and the right to public assembly).
The protests were connected to the campaign to prevent a new laboratory being built at Oxford University. For more information see http://speakcampaigns.org
Two of the claimants in this case, Keith Richardson and Joanne Moodie also had a formal complaint upheld against Lancashire Constabulary for further arrests that took place in 2007 whilst the pair were campaigning against animal experiments. Lancashire Constabulary admitted earlier this year that the 2007 arrests were unlawful and in breach of the protesters’ human rights.