They have donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to direct action guerrillas. Now, they have found themselves under attack.
In the past week, the cosmetics chain Lush has seen its branches vandalised and its staff threatened, immediately after it launched an anti-fox hunting campaign. In Chelmsford, Essex, a man returned to the same store on three occasions to knock over a display of Fabulous Mrs Fox bubble bars, the proceeds from which Lush donates to the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA). Staff called police.
Store manager Sue McKenna said: "He first came in on Tuesday, knocked over all the bubble bars and leaflets, and said he was going to come back every day until the campaign stops. Then he ran out. When he came back the third time, an off-duty police officer was in the shop, who told him to leave. It was then that we rang 999." Essex police were unavailable to comment on the incident last night.
In Manchester, members of the HSA had been invited to the Lush store to help with the campaign and hand out leaflets. But a few days before the event, a man entered the shop and told a member of staff that "there will be trouble" if it went ahead. Staff contacted police, and were relieved when the event on Saturday passed without incident.
In Maidstone, Kent, a kebab was smeared over the shop front and the words 'Fuck You' scratched into the glass, while in Taunton, Somerset, an anonymous caller told staff to "watch their backs". Promotional campaign blackboards were also covered with "Keep Hunting" stickers, photos of which appeared on the online forum of the magazine Horse & Hound.
The Countryside Alliance, which has been highly critical of Lush's decision to support the HSA, has urged hunt supporters not to target the stores. In a statement, the charity, which campaigns to overturn the ban on fox hunting, said: "It is important to realise that while the rural community is deeply upset at Lush's misguided decision to support the Hunt Saboteurs Association, any sort of direct, abusive or tactical protest, illegal or legal, is not appropriate and such action will most definitely not be supported by the Countryside Alliance."
The Alliance had previously criticised Lush for supporting the HSA, saying it "advocates direct action and illegal methods to disrupt hunting activities". Head of media Tim Bonner said: "While we support the view that everyone has their right to an opinion, there are groups who legally oppose hunting, and the HSA is not one of them."
Hunt saboteurs have been regularly criticised for the methods they employ in disrupting hunts. Many hunt followers tell tales of having been pulled from their horses by "sabs".
Lee Moon, of the HSA, said: "The only reason the HSA continues to exist is because hunts up and down the country routinely break the law while killing foxes. We are the only ones who see what is really going on in the countryside, and it's we who are responding to it by getting between the hunters and the hunted, much the same as we have been doing for almost half a century. The hunts are still killing, the police aren't policing and so we are still sabbing."
The company, founded by Mark Constantine, donated more than £500,000 to charities and campaign groups last year. In December 2008 it paid the legal fees of the 56 protesters from Plane Stupid who broke into Stansted airport and delayed thousands of passengers.