Journalist seized and branded by animal activists

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the moment every investigative journalist dreads. Graham Hall, an award-winning television reporter, was meeting a new contact called Mark, who claimed he could identify an illegal dog-fighting ring. Suddenly Mark kicked him hard in the groin and, helped by a group of men, bundled Mr Hall, 43, into the back of an Escort van.

The kidnappers put a hood over his head and pressed what appeared to be a gun against him. "I thought I was being taken to my execution and I'm not ashamed to admit I was so frightened that I wet myself," Mr Hall said.

Then he recognised one voice as an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) activist, and the truth dawned on the undercover reporter. This was retribution for the programme hehad made last year for Channel 4's Dispatches series. The programme, "Inside the ALF", won a BAFTA award after Mr Hall infiltrated the ALF and revealed extremist animal rights campaigners talking about how they made bombs, set cars alight and attacked their targets.

After driving for an hour, Mr Hall said the van stopped and he was "frog-marched" into a house and tied to a chair for some hours. "The next thing I knew someone had pushed my head down between my legs and I felt an excruciating pain across my back."

He had been branded by a red-hot iron, which was used to burn the letters "ALF" - a scar some four inches high by nine inches wide - across his back. "Now justice has been done," Mr Hall heard one of his captors say. The reporter said that after nearly 12 hours, he was once again bundled into the van, driven to a remote spot and thrown on to the road, with a final warning that if he told the police or the media "you'll die".

Despite his attacker's warning, Mr Hall went to the West Mercia Police to report the kidnapping and branding which was inflicted on 25 October. He now faces plastic surgery, which Channel 4 has said it is prepared to pay for, as a result of the large scar on his back.

Mr Hall has had a 15 year career as an undercover reporter that has included exposes of drug smugglers, illegal cartels and animal abusers, such as badger baiters and dog fighters. As a result of his investigations, he has contributed to over 40 court cases and 70 convictions. He usually works for the independent production company, David Monaghan Associates, which has produced several programmes for Dispatches.

A well-built man, Mr Hall looks, according to one reviewer, "more like a thug than the criminals he helps to put away".

He left school at 16 with no qualifications and has a short criminal record for petty burglary as a teenager. For many years, Mr Hall made his living as a painter and decorator, turning to undercover journalism to show how easy it was for drug dealers to walk into prisons and sell drugs.

Just a few days before he was kidnapped, Mr Hall was "stunned" to discover that the police had decided not to prosecute the ALF activists caught boasting about their criminal exploits in last year's Dispatches expose. The ALF, however, clearly did not intend to let matters drop - they were out for revenge. Last week, surveillance cameras at his West Midlands home, where he lives with his wife and children, picked up an intruder trying to climb into his garden.

A Channel 4 spokesman said: "Graham Hall is one of the country's best undercover journalists and has taken considerable risks to uncover wrong- doing and corruption. Channel 4 is horrified by this barbarous act on Graham Hall and has offered him every support possible."

Robin Webb, a spokesman for ALF, and one of the activists exposed by the Dispatches programme, said he knew nothing about the attack. He was, however, reported as saying: "People who make a living this way have to expect from time to time to take the consequences of their actions."

Yesterday Mr Webb said, "The ALF's policy has always been that there should be no harming life in its work, and we abide by that. This attack has nothing to do with us."