Memories of Our Fallen Comrades
with John Curtin
from No Compromise Issue 26
 

 

During the winter of 1994, a group of terrified young calves were flown from Coventry, England to end their lives in Dutch veal crates. A few people started protesting at the airport gates; Jill Phipps was one. As a transporter came down the road to the gates she would run to it, shouting at the drivers to think about the suffering they caused. The few police there would turn out and simply man-handle her and anyone else behaving similarly out of the way.

Then came February 1, 1995. That day there were about 76 police there and about 32 demonstrators. Jill and a few others eluded the police, most of who were in a van at the back, and reached the transporter truck. Any good driver would have stopped until it was safe to continue, but Stephen Yates just drove on indifferently.

"Jill was crushed and died on the way to hospital. Our mother, Nancy, was with her. The driver has never been charged. At the inquest the police stated that their actions had been planned by a specialist tactician, and that the day had been very sucessful..." - Zab Phipps

Never Forgive, Never Forget

February 1, 2005, marked the ten-year anniversary of the killing of UK animal rights campaigner Jill Phipps. While tragic and heartbreaking, Jill’s death served to galvanize the animal rights community in England, with the movement adopting purple—Jill’s favorite color—as a symbol for animal rights.

February also marks the killing of UK hunt saboteur Mike Hill, who died on February 9, 1991.

Unfortunately, Jill and Mike are not the only activists who have been killed while fighting for the animals. Since they began to effectively spread the message of compassion, those who fight for the rights of non-human animals have been portrayed as violent thugs bent upon damaging property and intimidating normal law- abiding people for no apparent reason. Tom Worby, a hunt saboteur from the UK, as well as several environmental activists, is among the many who have been killed by those who kill the earth and animals. Their deaths have had a tremendous impact on the movement and those who were close to them. UK activist John Curtin, a friend to Jill, Mike, and Barry Horne, talks about his experiences and the impact their lives and deaths had.


I’ve been asked to write an article about friends of mine who have died while fighting for animal liberation - Mike Hill, Jill Phipps and Barry Horne. Others have died, but this article is just some simple reflections upon the people I knew as personal friends.

Mike Hill was killed by hunt-blood junkie Alan Summersgill on Feb 9, 1991. Mike was a lovely, young, anarcho activist – he was only 18 years old when his life was wiped out by hunt filth. I’d met him on demos and hunt sabs and we just simply “clicked” with each other. I remember him giving me a huge bag of coins at a demo against beagle breeders, Perrycroft Lodge (which was, soon after, closed down). He’d collected the money by doing stalls, because on the previous occasion that I’d seen him I’d told him that we needed to raise some money for a forthcoming liberation raid.

I was gutted when I got the news that a sab had been killed and devastated when I found out an hour later that it was Mike. He’d been out sabbing the Cheshire Beagles Hunt. I’d been due to go on the sab that day and afterwards we were all going to go to a benefit gig, but the weather was so bad that day that many roads were simply impassable. I can remember skidding out of control in a car with Keith Mann on the motorway before we abandoned our efforts to get to the sab. Blood junkies, being what they are, still need their fix of violence no matter how atrocious the weather. The local sabs had a successful day in preventing them from killing.

To cut a very long story short, as the sun was setting that day Mike was run over by Summersgill, who then drove home. The police immediately deemed it to be a “tragic accident” and never investigated the “incident” or brought charges against Summersgill.

Our attitude was “there’s no justice -- just us.” I went up to Freshfields Animal sanctuary, where Mike lived. A Crass record was on his turntable, and “fuck the police” and anti-war posters adorned his caravan walls. I was so sad and so fuckin’ angry.

We organized a “demo” two days later at the hunt kennels, which is also where Summersgill’s house was. Despite the short notice, 150 of us turned up. Perhaps not the ideal situation for a riot is when the police and media cameras are already there as you arrive, but we didn’t care – they were irrelevant. That house was going to get smashed to pieces, and that’s just what we did. God knows what we would have done if he had been at home!

I got arrested 3 times that day and each time I was liberated by my friends – it was amazing to see how powerful and unpoliceable (if there is such a word) we were that day. Only one person was actually detained at the scene. Again to cut a long story short, I was captured months afterwards and served, along with 8 others, a year in prison. I didn’t regret one moment of it, though (apart from being so crazed with grief and anger that I didn’t even bother to wear a face mask – oops!!). That house was later burned to the ground, and Summersgill went into hiding.

We expected to get arrested at the funeral, but the police must have been so freaked out by how fierce we’d been at the hunt kennels that they left us well alone. As they lowered the coffin into the ground, we (with the permission of Mike’s parents) shouted out, “What do we want? Animal liberation. When do we want it? Now! Are we gonna fight for it? Yes! Did Mike Hill die for it? Yes! Are we gonna get it? YES!”

What followed Mike’s death was a huge upsurge in activities of all sorts, especially anti– hunt and A.L.F. actions. The number of A.L.F. actions that took place in the northwest of England, where Mike had been living, reached unprecedented levels, and all the hunts in the Cheshire area were constantly targeted.

That’s all I’ve got to say about Mike. As for Jill. . .in many ways, at least in my mind, she and Mike were kindred spirits – punky, anarcho free spirits who were as gentle as lambs unless they came up against injustice and violence against those unable to defend themselves. They were both involved in other struggles - for human as well as animal liberation (anyway we are all animals, but you know what I mean).

Jill was one of my best mates. She and her mum Nancy were the first lib loonies I ever met when I went to a public talk given by Kim Stallwood in our hometown of Coventry, back in 1983. Jill’s first impression of me wasn’t so great, though – I was so keen to “get up and at ’em” that she told Nancy not to tell me nothing coz she reckoned I was an undercover copper! However, once she checked out my local punk credentials and got to know me a bit we soon became “partners in crime.” I have many fond memories of going to gigs with her and smashin’ butchers’ windows afterwards. It became such a regular ritual that the butchers got themselves together and turned up at a Conflict gig. I think the idea was to scare us – oh, how we laughed!

Jill’s A.L.F. activist days were somewhat suspended after she gave birth to her son, Luke. She only narrowly escaped imprisonment when she was given a suspended prison sentence for a raid on Unilever labs. (Her mum and sister weren’t so lucky and were imprisoned for that raid.) She still helped the local AR group by doing stalls and going to demos. The police continued to harass her.

She was arrested and dragged all the way up to Cheshire following the attack on Summersgill’s house after Mike was killed. She wrote this now–poignant piece about Mike death in an article about her arrest: “I had heard about Mike Hill; it was a tragedy, but not really surprising, sadly, as most of us in our time have had to face a blood–crazed, mentally–deranged huntsman, and it was only a matter of time before this happened”.

The evidence against her was, as she herself put it, in that same article: “for being in possession of dreadlocks, a tatty parka and a ‘strange’ diet” - and many of the rioters matched this description – it’s true! She was able to prove that she’d dropped off and picked up her son from school that day.

Jill’s life was then taken over by events engineered by a scumbag called Mr. Barrett-Jolley. He came up with the idea of flying calves out to the veal crates of Europe from Coventry airport. Jill focused all of her energies to stop this atrocity. Again, to cut a long story short Jill ended up being run over by a cattle truck on February 1, 1995. Once again the police deemed it to be a tragic accident.

I was in Liverpool at the time when I saw the news headline. I rang up Nancy to find out what was going on and was told that the woman who had been killed was my friend Jill. I went straight down to Coventry, and like so many others went to live outside the airport. From that day on, we maintained a 24/7 vigil. After two more months of chaos the trade from Coventry was finally stopped, and a similar surge of people power erupted at all the other sites of live exports.

The news of Jill’s death hit headlines around the world. Her funeral was so massive that it had to be held at the cathedral in Coventry. The year she was killed she was voted “Woman of the Year” in a national poll (she even beat Lady D!!!) As for Barrett-Jolley, ‘the respectable business man,’ (who we knew at the time to be involved in arms and drugs dealing), he is now serving 20 years in prison for cocaine smuggling. Everyday at Coventry airport, his ‘cargo’ was given a massive police escort. He is obviously still haunted by Jill’s death, because during his trial for the drug smuggling case, his defense was that he was a CIA operative and his special agent contact’s name was J Phipps.

Jill was a beautiful person in every respect. Ten years on, we are planning a day of remembrance in Coventry but are experiencing one difficulty after another, as the authorities try to scupper our plans. I have made a half–hour film about Jill’s life; if anyone wants a copy, get in touch.

Now we move on to Barry. My friendship with Mike and Jill was ‘plain sailing’ compared to my stormy relation with Barry. We had some great laughs and lots of “adventures,” but phewee–– we used to fight like cats and dogs. You name it, and Barry and I could find some aspect upon which to disagree. Of course, I was always right and he was always wrong :-).

When he was dying on hunger strike in prison, he said he wanted me to speak at his funeral. I fully understood the practical joke in his request, because he knew he would put me in the impossible position of standing in front of the crowd and not being able to start off with the usual cliché – “My memories of Barry are that he was such a lovely, sweet, charming man”.

But putting our ‘little tiffs’ aside, Barry was a remarkable person and a truly great fighter for animal liberation. He had grit, determination, and unshakeable faith in direct action and our movement, the likes of which I have never seen And I mean that even without any reference to the incredible bravery and dedication he showed on his hunger strike. He was a totally full-on 100% animal liberation activist.

This article is for the “No Compromise” magazine – well, Barry was the living embodiment of NO COMPROMISE. He lived, breathed and acted it out. Once he took a stance he wouldn’t budge an inch – stubborn fucker!! And that’s what made him such a great fighter. He was a warrior in the oldest tradition – even though he didn’t have a drop of Irish blood in him, he always felt a strong connection with the struggle to liberate Ireland from British rule. So maybe he was some re-incarnated Celtic warrior. An old Irish proverb says that the Irish love a lot and hate a lot – that’s Barry.

One recollection I have of Barry sums the man up. It concerns a raid on Harlan Interfauna (for which I was later caught and imprisoned for 18 months). We liberated 82 beagles and 26 rabbits and caused lots of damage. We had to work through the night ferrying the animals across the fields to the safest spot we could find for our vehicles to hide up. Barry was a star that night. For anyone who has had to carry animals long distances you’ll know how hard it is. Another Irish saying fits in perfectly here: A carried hen is a heavy hen. Barry worked for years as a dustbin man (a refuse collector), and that night he put all those years of “experience” into action. I remember him kicking arses all night long as the rest of us were flagging through sheer exhaustion: “C’mon you pathetic vegan wimps! Move it!” It’s just what we all needed.

I was in court when Barry received his disgusting, 18–year sentence. I sat there and listened to the prosecution lawyer having to accept that Barry’s campaign of arson was aimed at damaging property belonging to animal–abusing companies and was not aimed at endangering life. Eighteen years in prison!! Barry’s response was typical of the man. A clenched–fist salute to us and then set about planning the next battle in his war against animal abusers.

He embarked on a series of hunger strikes relating to Tony Blair’s broken promises concerning pre-election pledges about vivisection. Now Barry was no liberal democrat who was horrified and outraged that politicians had reneged on their word. No, this was a tactical decision taken in order to highlight the whole issue of vivisection to the general public. But more importantly, he saw it as a way to galvanise us, the animal liberation movement, into action, such as the vivisectors and their cohorts had never seen the like of.

The shitstem used every possible dirty trick to undermine Barry’s incredible resilience – the dirtiest of which was to, under the cover of darkness, to move him from the hospital, where he’d had good access to friends and family, back to the isolation of a prison cell. He was literally on death’s door, but somehow he was still full of determination after 68 days on hunger strike (and this was his third hunger strike), although his mind had become delirious. This is a neglected aspect of hunger strikes – that after going beyond the 40–day mark, or thereabouts, it is very common for the mental faculties to begin to seriously decline - hallucinations etc. When he was offered food by the prison officers the next morning, he took it, as he didn’t have any concept that he was even on a hunger strike.

Barry’s physical and mental faculties never fully recovered after the irreparable damage caused by the series of hunger strikes, and he died nearly 3 years later on November 5, 2001 (which for us in England is known as bonfire night!!) whilst on yet another hunger strike. The main reason behind the shitstem’s dirty tricks, apart from the usual smear campaign, was that they were fully aware of the explosion of direct action that was primed to take place following his death – which was all part of Barry’s incredible master plan.

We all begged him not to go on any more hunger strikes coz, apart from anything else, the movement just didn’t seem ready to go through all that again. But he seemed intent on going through with it, and when the news of his death did come there wasn’t a massive immediate reaction.

You could argue that by then, because of the awful toll that the previous hunger strikes had taken on him, that he was no longer the master tactician, but think about it: Ok, so there was no immediate reaction, but since his death, anti-vivisection activity has taken off all over the world – the situation in Britain has reached a point where the pharmaceutical industry has given an ultimatum to the government that unless they can stop us (oh yeah, as if!), they will be forced to leave this country – Bye!

The HUGE difference between the circumstances of Barry’s death and that of Jill and Mike’s is that Barry had always been in control of his destiny, whereas Jill and Mike were mercilessly mowed down and killed by animal abusers.

So what is the legacy of Mike, Jill and Barry’s death and of all the other sacrifices that we, as a movement, have had to endure? That’s up to you, the reader of this article, to determine. You and I both know what it is that they would wish their legacy to be (no prizes for guessing the answer): ANIMAL LIBERATION.