Anyone eavesdropping on the conversation among friends in a pub in East Sussex one recent Saturday evening may have been bewildered by the range of topics they discussed. Hunting. Sabbing. Arrests. Prison. League Against Cruel Sports. Countryside Alliance. Pranking the police. RSPCA. Vegan. Brexit. Fooling the hunt. Animal sanctuaries. Chicken eggs and women’s periods. Hunt Saboteurs Association. Smoking beagles. Demonstrations. And so on.
This was a group of animal activists who haven’t been in the same room together for some time. Except for Dave and Cee Wetton who started sabbing hunts with the Hunt Saboteurs in 1969, we had all worked with each other in one organization or another or stood on the front lines of some protest or another since the 1970s. Moreover, every one of us is still active today fighting for animals and social justice generally.
Dave Wetton was secretary of the Hunt Saboteurs Association for decades. He and Cee’s ethical principles and shared outrage at the cruelty of hunting, along with their irreverent sense of humour and general disdain for authority, were the backbone of why the HSA were so successful in saving the lives of foxes and making the lives of hunters miserable. Sadly, the HSA is still needed today particularly as the hunts frequently flout the Hunting Act (2004). Brave sabs gather evidence and take it to the police who invariably fail to take action or pursue the matter through to the courts. The evidence, though, is now posted by the sabs onto Facebook and YouTube for all to see.
John Bryant, Robin Howard, and I served on the RSPCA’s nationally elected council but not at the same time together. I remember John speaking at the RSPCA’s “Rights of Animals” conference at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1977. He played an audio tape recorded inside a car that contained frightened sabs while hunt heavies smashed the windscreen and windows. John had written an important book, Fettered Kingdoms, which described his own animal rights ethic. He was a former hunt sab who became Vice Chairman of the RSPCA and served on its council for eight years. John also managed the Ferne Animal Sanctuary for six years. I remember visiting the sanctuary and amazed at the size of the pigs wandering about. John then went onto devote many years to the League Against Cruel Sports. In 1998 John formed the Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence to offer humane, non-lethal solutions to problems with wildlife. His latest book, Lady Patricia, is his first novel that bears an uncanny resemblance to reality and people at times.
Robin was among the first to be convicted of illegal activities inspired by the Animal Liberation Front, which was founded by Ronnie Lee and Cliff Goodman in 1972. Robin, a young computer programmer, was found guilty of causing damage to two Lincolnshire sealing boats in 1975. I joined him on the RSPCA Council in the 1980s; however, my time was much shorter than his as I was expelled from the council and membership for “acting inimically” in the society’s interests. I had publicly criticized the society for holding stock in companies that conducted animal research. Robin successfully represented the progressive view for animals on a council whose views were clearly conservative.
Were we a bunch of old codgers reminiscing about past times? Of course, we were. Nonetheless, it felt good for all of us to recognize our lives are still devoted to animal rights and will be for the remainder of our days.