Village fails to exclude animal rights campaigners

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The Independent Online

Villagers living near a farm that breeds guinea pigs for medical research have failed in an initial court attempt to stop animal rights activists entering a 200 sq km (77 sq mile) exclusion zone.

Villagers living near a farm that breeds guinea pigs for medical research have failed in an initial court attempt to stop animal rights activists entering a 200 sq km (77 sq mile) exclusion zone.

A High Court judge said the proposed no-go area was far too wide, but granted a temporary order banning protesters from going within 100 metres of Darley Oaks Farm at Newchurch, Staffordshire, except for the purpose of limited peaceful demonstrations.

Lawyers for the farm owners, the brothers Christopher and John Hall, and the 4,500 residents of six surrounding parishes had argued that they needed immediate and wide-ranging protection from a campaign of intimidation and harassment which was getting out of control.

Solicitor-advocate Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden cited recent "very sinister criminal events", including the theft of the body of Christopher Hall's mother-in-law from her churchyard grave and an arson attack on a company that supplied products to the farm.

Mr Justice Hodge ruled that, although the effect on the Hall family and their business had been devastating, it would be "unwise" to make such a wide interim order pending a full hearing of the case in mid-January, by which time the protesters would have had time to prepare their case.

In October, the body of Gladys Hammond, the mother-in-law of Christopher Hall, who co-owns Darley Oaks Farm with his brother John, was stolen from a grave at St Peter's church in the village of Yoxall. The theft of the body of Mrs Hammond, who died in 1997 aged 82, is believed to have been the work of animal rights protesters.

A 62-year-old woman was arrested yesterday by detectives investigating the incident. Two men aged 41 and 34 remain on police bail after being arrested on 14 October.

Yesterday's case was brought under the Protection from Harassment Act against various individuals and organisations, including Save Newchurch Guinea Pigs, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), Speak Campaigns, and the Animal Liberation Front. Three individual defendants - John Curtin, Amanda King and Kevin White - were in court.

Darley Oaks Farm has been the scene of demonstrations since 1999, but the Hall family and other local people associated with it have also been the subject of less peaceful action. They have received hate mail, malicious phone calls and hoax bombs and have suffered a paedophile smear campaign and arson attacks.

The move for a protest-free zone follows similar court action by Oxford University and Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Peter Clamp, 50, who runs a haulage business and is a parish councillor, is seeking an injunction on behalf of the villagers. He said he had been prompted to pursue an injunction after the desecration of Mrs Hammond's grave. He said he hoped a successful application would mean residents could live in peace once again.

Mr Clamp said: "Over the past five years, a landlord has had to leave his premises because he made a stand, people have had paint thrown through windows, cars scratched and ruined with paint stripper, roads daubed with words I can't repeat, and explosions in fields."