The Band of Mercy was formed by myself and five other people
at a meeting in London in 1973.
All of us were either vegetarians or vegans and had been
involved in various animal protection organizations. We shared
the common feeling that those organizations were failing to
stem the tide of animal persecution because their tactics
weren't hard-hitting enough.
We felt it was vital to embark on a campaign of direct action
in order to try to turn things around. We had no idea whether
or not we would succeed, but we felt there was no other choice
and we had to give it a go.
The name Band of Mercy was chosen, as that was the title
used by a 19th century RSPCA youth group, which (very surprisingly,
given the conventional nature of the RSPCA today) damaged
guns belonging to hunters as part of their campaign.
We decided that our campaign should be against property and
that no violence should be used against people, except in
self-defense. For some of us, this was for moral reasons,
but for others it was purely tactical. I personally now regret
this, as I feel there would have been a place for the limited
use of violence against animal abusers.
The first targets of the Band of Mercy were foxhunt kennels,
where we caused damage to vehicles used to transport the hounds.
Then, towards the end of 1973, we made two attempts at burning
down a vivisection laboratory that was under construction.
This was followed by the destruction of a boat used in the
slaughter of baby seals and a wave of attacks against vehicles
used to transport animals to laboratories.
In the summer of 1974, two of us were arrested and later
sentenced to three years in prison for some of these actions.
I feared this could deter other people and put an end to
this form of direct action. But when I came out of prison,
I was pleasantly surprised at the number of animal protection
campaigners who now wanted to become involved. It was at this
point that it was decided to change the name to the Animal
Liberation Front (A.L.F.), in order to clearly reflect what
we stood for.
The A.L.F. continued in much the same way as the Band of
Mercy, but because of the increased number of activists involved,
it was now also able to rescue animals from vivisection labs
The number of A.L.F. actions began to increase rapidly, and
A.L.F. groups set themselves up all over the country and abroad.
By the law of averages, this inevitably meant that more activists
were arrested and imprisoned, and the total number of activists
who have spent time in jail now runs to many hundreds.
The most active period for the A.L.F. (in terms of the sheer
number of actions carried out) was probably the early-to-mid-eighties.
This was also the period of one of the A.L.F.'s greatest successes,
with the decimation of the British fur trade after department
stores refused to stock fur coats following several A.L.F.
attacks left stores severely damaged.
Although the total number of A.L.F. actions is fewer today,
I feel nevertheless that the A.L.F. is now more effective
than ever. With only a few notable exceptions, A.L.F. attacks
in the past tended to be rather diffuse in nature, with little
concentration on any particular target. This meant that animal
abuse establishments were able to recover and continue with
their business fairly easily.
These days, the A.L.F. tends more to act as a back up to
existing campaigns, often delivering the killer blows to businesses
that are already under pressure from other methods of campaigning.
Additionally, its actions are more concentrated and thus far