Dear Michael Howard

In the wake of the sentencing of the animal rights activist Keith Mann, the woman at whose animal sanctuary he was working writes to the Home Secretar y

I write to you as the person at whose animal sanctuary [the Celia Hammond Animal Trust, Wadhurst, East Sussex] the animal activist Keith Mann was arrested.

To avoid confusion, the trust's policy on animal rights extremism is as follows: "Chat will, as always, strive for improvements in animal welfare legislation only through lawful means, and condemns acts of violence carried out to further the cause of animal welfare."

It therefore follows that I had no knowledge that our two new unpaid volunteers - Mann and his girlfriend - who arrived at the sanctuary last autumn, were using aliases and that he was involved in illegal activities. I would not have allowed them to comehad I known. For six months, they proved to be totally dedicated to the care of our rescued animals, often working 18 hours a day, and were valued members of our team. It was a complete shock to discover, when Mann was arrested in a dawn raid, that he was wanted by the police.

I am not au fait with the fine detail of the court case but understand that Keith Mann was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment after admitting various offences against the meat trade. Obviously, if he has done wrong he must be punished by the courts, but this seems an extraordinarily harsh sentence when one considers that people who kill, rape or maim are often treated much more leniently. I can only think that the severity of the sentence must have been designed to deter other activists, but I fear thatit will have the opposite effect, spurring them on to greater effort and elevating Mann to the status of a martyr to the cause.

I do not condone any illegal activity but urge you to consider the fact that there is a growing movement of young people today who are becoming ever more despairing at the lack of any meaningful legislation in this country to protect animals from crueltyand exploitation, and that they are, as a result, often driven to behave in unacceptable and extreme ways.

They have seen past generations trying to bring about changes in the law by campaigning, petitioning and lobbying - with very limited success. They apparently feel they have no alternative but to take part in campaigns of direct action. Unfortunately, t h ey do not realise that some of their activities alienate the general public, setting back the cause of animal welfare in the process.

We at Chat feel just as strongly as the activists about the legal cruelties taking place daily in the UK - in laboratories, intensive farms, during the transport of live food animals, in field sports - but I feel that the fight against them must take place within the law.

What is badly needed from this government is some real progress towards improvements in animal welfare. The British public has been demanding such improvements, supported by the results of opinion polls, for many years. This government has not listened. Unfortunately, without improvements in animal welfare legislation, I can only see an escalation of this sort of extreme action.

Ministers have seriously misjudged the depth of public feeling regarding areas of animal abuse in this country and by failing to address these concerns must, I am afraid, accept some responsibility for certain acts of desperation.

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