Inside the large rambling house cowers a man and his wife; and not for the first time. He jumps as the window to his side is struck and crashes inward, sending glass fragments spraying across the room and ricocheting from walls. A hail of stones and bricks follows, some larger and more cumbersome, others smaller and aimed with an accuracy and precision reserved for fine bullets. He wedges himself even further into the corner and clasps his ears as a rattle from above indicates the tell-tale sounds of tiles falling, slipping from the angular roof and collecting more tiles on the way as masonry and rocks slam onto their surface. Smashing and breaking and crashing to the floor leaving behind faint patches of daytime sky hovering through the roof like a critical eye. It begins to rain.
Outside, the masses have gathered. Over one thousand of them. From every corner of the UK and Europe they have traveled; and not for the first time. They circle the width and length of the property; anonymous figures in army fatigues, masked, ageless, genderless; slipping through the trees on one side or standing motionless on the dirt fields on the other. Mingling with them are other concerned citizens - members of the local community, children, the disabled, priests and pensioners. People from all backgrounds, from all classes, people of all colour. People with different religions, different diets, different politics; people who would never normally have met. Only one thing unites them all - a communal abhorrence and disgust at a trade that sends kittens to the cutting tables of labs around the world.
Between the masses and the man who cowers inside are reels of barbed wire, huge metal fencing and temporary barricades erected for the occasion surrounding what appears to be an innocuous farmhouse on its own acreage and converting it to a house under siege. Behind the barricades are row upon row of riot police, men and womyn drafted in from neighbouring forces to provide personal security to one of the most hated men in Britain.
Welcome to Hillgrove Farm! 'Farmer' Chris Brown has been operating his sordid business for 28 years on the outskirts of Oxfordshire, UK, with little or no interference until now. In that period he has sentenced over 20,000 cats and kittens to their deaths, boxing them up at 12 weeks old and delivering them to an unimaginable fate in the hands of surgical butchers. Brown's chosen function in life is to bring creatures into this world, to intentionally encourage the creation of life in order to abuse it, to desecrate it, to ultimately destroy it at their most needy, at the most vulnerable stage of their lives for what amounts to trinkets, for 'things', for personal financial gain, for material betterment, for status. Chris Brown is a nasty little capitalist whose empire of useless objects is built on the premise that in a world of property vs. lives, it is ultimately property which wins and lives are trod underfoot in the stampede for individual wealth.
The Hillgrove Campaign developed and evolved for many fundamental reasons and its success so far can be attributed to a variety of factors not normally present in their entirety during one-off demonstrations. But long before this, a period of stagnation had occurred. With many people in prison on technically serious charges and looking at long sentences, it also extended the gulf between those who believed in non- violent direct action and those who didn't, and what ensured were unpublicised smaller acts of illegal action on the one hand and the purely legal campaigning efforts of others on the other. An air of despondency and lack of direction followed, helped along by the advent of a National general election in which opposition leader Tony Blair promised anti-cruelty reforms. A large part of the movement, it appeared, was holding its hypothetical breath and was prepared to clutch at the proverbial straw, allowing internal but hesitant optimism to replace the usual suspicion of parliamentary reform.
It took a hunger strike by ALF prisoner Barry Horne, currently serving an 18 year sentence that triggered a series of sustained and spontaneous campaigns against vivisection and in particular against a beagle breeding facility called Consort Ltd. Fueled by the prospect of a man unable to vent his own anger against a cause so dear to his heart and stoked even further by the cries of the dogs themselves only a stones throw away from the clearly visible protesters, the campaign to close down Consort provided a platform which, amongst other things, bridged a gap between the legal and illegal and fused the two into one solid and ongoing action for the animals and in particular for pen after pen of beagles who bonded with the activists during nighttime sojourns and daytime demos.
Like Hillgrove, which was to follow, the campaign incorporated a whole range of diverse tactics, each of which would undoubtedly have been futile in isolation. From peaceful picketing to harassment, from criminal damage to liberations and all this by people as diverse as the strategies. With the political gap bridged however, and with people crossing the line between legal and illegal, the police were not able to identify and criminalise those they suspected of being ringleaders because the fluidity of actions were being committed by all, with schoolchildren and pensioners playing as big a part as long serving activists. The police were still heavy handed in their approach but they suffered a blow, knowing that suddenly the usually close-knit sub- culture of Animal Rights had the floodgates opened and was welcoming ordinary members of the public whose only contact with A/R had been negative press coverage.
The concept of taking personal responsibility for animal liberation was spreading and, frighteningly enough for the police, the usually disempowered masses were raising themselves off their knees to stand brave and proud before police lines furiously demanding an end to vivisection. Added to this was the Channel 4 documentary which revealed an infiltration of the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory where employees were filmed punching and kicking a beagle during and after an injection. Consort was a supplier to HLS and this whipped up a frenzy of activity which proved a constant financial and psychological nightmare for them and in the end, as was predicted, hoped and prayed for, they closed having sold some of their dogs to HLS and with the remaining being bought by animal welfare campaigners and re-homed.
This proved a huge morale boosting operation and emotions and intent were high. People became aware of the inherent power of collective action and the frustrations of fruitless years of campaigning beforehand dissolved with the acknowledgment that with solidarity and commitment and a resolve to win - we can and we will. The positive energy that infected everyone was redirected to Hillgrove Farm and has amassed support and numbers ever since.
Strategically, Hillgrove is a viable target. Firstly, it is financially isolated in that it has no parent, sister or subsidiary company upon which to draw funds. Secondly, it is geographically isolated allowing room for large scale numbers of people and actions. Thirdly, he and his secondary business - a bed & breakfast service is also on site and fourthly, he is the last remaining cat breeder for vivisection in the UK. His closure will effectively force labs to either import or to extend their own facilities and which can be fought at the planning stage easier than a business already up and running. So this far, Brown doesn't have a great deal going for him! But then neither do the cats in his charge.
Historically, cats haven't fared too well in Europe, especially during the middle ages when thousands were burnt or drowned alongside women pagans and healers of local villages. We don't burn 'witches' anymore but, what we, in all our glorified civilization, do still to cats is far far worse. No-one, least of all Brown knows exactly what will happen to the kittens he ships around the world, but we can hazard a guess. Cats are used in pain experiments, blindness experiments, neurological experiments. They are used in sleep deprivation, electric shock testing, disability and psychological impairment experiments. Every evil and painful sadistic act that has ever been thought up has been used on cats; and Brown is a man who traded in his very soul the day he first saw a kitten and saw a sack of silver in its place.
And so the campaign began in earnest. Coordination up and down the UK ensured that numbers were available and Oxfordshire being just southwest of Central meant that it was a fairly convenient location to travel to as part of a national effort. Thousands of leaflets were designed and distributed to homes, shops, libraries and businesses in Oxfordshire by activists walking day and night to see every inch of the area covered. Every home had details of Hillgrove Farm and the business conducted there pushed through their letter boxes, in an effort to win local community support. Posters depicting Farmer Brown's face and his phone number suddenly appeared on lamp-posts and letters appeared in local papers each week generating opinion and debate among the local populace. Farmer Brown became a household name, a topic of conversation, a figure of disgust. The local council were approached, journalists befriended, local town meetings organised which ordinary families in Oxford attended. People who would never have even questioned the ethics of vivisection now found themselves at the forefront of demonstrations and far more open to the whole arena of animal abuse.
At the same time a daily presence of activists kept up the pressure at the farm itself welcoming in the workers through a loudhailer in the mornings and bidding them goodnight when they left. Car registrations were noted, vehicles followed home and so began a series of 'home visits', impromptu noisy demonstrations outside the homes of Hillgrove workers; the workers whose job it was to fatten the cats, to breed them, to take out the dying, to destroy the dried up mothers, to box the babies, to send them on their way for thousands of miles to be cut and bled and blinded in the name of 'science'. As guilty as sin, they were shouted at, pleaded with, argued with, cajoled; their vehicles damaged.
Neighbours also applied indirect pressure and eventually, as the sick-leaves extended, one by one they dropped like flies. Peace and psychological well-being superseding the blood money which could be earned elsewhere. Susan O'Shea, a worker for 4 years and head of Unit 4. despite pressure to the contrary, withheld her position at work and maintained her 'love' for the cats as such that after a break-in during which several cats were taken, she apparently "cried" as to their "welfare". O'Shea finally cracked and left Hillgrove after the polices' Tactical Support Unit left mud on her carpets. Granted - it's a tactic I never would have thought of - thank you TSU wherever you are.
Farmer Brown was subjected to nightly assaults upon his home, his range rover was torched, his windows smashed and 4 Insurance firms have refused his custom. Financially, he was becoming a liability! Local pubs and shops held notices forbidding him entry and angry local residents assaulted him as he attempted to remove a poster of himself from a post at night. Forced also to employ outside animal technicians to keep his farm ticking over, Brown was a man going downhill fast.
The psychological effects of a sustained intimidation campaign can be phenomenal. Anyone who torments a vulnerable being, be they a weaker person, a child or an animal are cowards who receive power and economic status by imposing their will on the defenceless. And in Brown's case he does it because he knows he's legally entitled to. By seizing ultimate power from him and by subjecting him to the same type of fear and torment that the animal nations only suffer in part, we are one step closer to forcing his retreat. Most abusers accept protests as part and parcel of the job they do, but it never outweighs the benefits they receive because at the end of the day they leave work and go home and there they have their privacy to unwind and relax and to shrug off the day's protests.
But with home visits becoming more popular and successful than lab visits or with people, like Brown, living on site - there is no escape, there is no let-up from the telephone calls, the knocks on the door, the thrown stones, the people creeping around at night, the constant threat of something 'more' happening. Even the Ramblers Association have removed his B&B service from their publication and Trading Standards have told him to drop the phrase 'friendly atmosphere' from his adverts; even the council are appealing for his closure. The net is closing in and yet, at a cost of more than 1/4 million pounds, the state is intent on protecting him.
Chris Brown is not a politician, not army brass, he's not royalty nor ambassador for anything or anyone important. He's just a cat killer. So why the protection? Why, when most of the police who guard him are morally opposed to his business, are huge contingents of riot and mounted police available for months on end to protect someone so unimportant? Why, when household burglaries, rapes and racial attacks go unchallenged by the authorities can one man command hundreds of personal bodyguards at a phenomenal cost to unsuspecting and unsupportive taxpayers?
The police on one documentary were seen to have herded Brown into an office to tell him that, in the future, he would have to financially contribute to the growing security costs that the police themselves could no longer afford from their budget; and now all of a sudden the police have, as one man put it, 'a bottomless well of money'.
The truth is the matter has gone beyond Brown. The momentum of the movement has escalated into a genuine threat in such a way that Brown is now a mere pawn in a larger political game, financed and supported by the home Office responsible for issuing vivisectors their licenses and by the research defence apologists who stand much to lose if the Animal Rights movement claim yet another battle. Brown no longer has the option, it's out of his hands and is being fought instead by the combined weight of the vivisection fraternity and their political cronies and executed by the puppet police.
If they have an infinite well of finance as their armament, we have an even greater well of resolve inexhaustible because it comes from within and is stoked by passion and a love stronger than anything money can buy. Hillgrove WILL be forced to close and we will, as the authorities are so scared of, move on to the next target and we will close that too. The fact remains that they can either change their ways or be forced to. The choice, unlike that of the animal nations, is entirely up to them.