Chapter 4: The Flamingo Land Campaign Starts

Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.

Alice Walker

March 1991

There was obvious distress caused by my arrest, not just to me but to my mother and sister. Nothing else happened until March 1991. After an original crime or 'incident' date the Crown Prosecution Service have six months in which to charge the accused. I was pretty confident that having read my version of the alleged incident it would be obvious that I had been set up. Apart from this I had a track record as an animal rights person who protected animals not abused them. In the spring of 1986, I, along with twenty-four other activists, had received prison sentences, for smashing into Unilever laboratories in Bedfordshire where animals were being experimented upon. I received a two-year sentence for my part in the daylight raid. I was released in January 1987 on parole having served eight months.

A week or so before the charge period elapsed, a letter arrived informing me I had to appear at Alnwick Magistrates court to enter a plea, the charge read something like;

You did on September 12th 1990 'commit a lewd and obscene act with a bottlenose dolphin in purview of Her Majesty’s Divers to their great disgust'

Not Guilty

Although the implication for me was so serious, for others it appeared it funny. Even a seasoned animal rights campaigner, who should have known better, asked me if I could see the funny side to it. Anyone with even the slightest empathy should have known how devastating it would be to face an allegation of animal abuse when the person accused has devoted his life to try and protect animals. In 2011 I came back into contact with Craig Smith, a rock climber I had known reasonably well in the 1980s. During an email exchange he wrote "by the way, how long did you end up inside? I heard a bit about all that, but couldn't quite believe it. You are probably the most gentle bloke I've known".

My response to him was to write "I find it amazing that people always seem to hear about the gossip and accusations but never hear the truth and final outcome". I even sent him the press cuttings of my acquittal, but he never replied.

Even though I told her not to be, my mother was worried, and she had never really recovered from the death of my father the previous year.

After my arrest, my brother-in-law and sister suggested it might be better not to continue to swim with Freddy, but I never took their advice. If I had it would have implied that I had something to hide. I was still swimming with my good friend.

In the springtime of April 1991 I was also busy launching the start of the 'The Flamingo Land Dolphin Campaign' (FLDC). Beverley Cowley appeared to have retired after fronting the campaign to free Rocky from Morecombe dolphinarium. Russell Spencer was a committed activist but didn't want to the spokesperson for FLDC, so that mantle fell to me by default. We organised a rally in York in early April 1991 to coincide with the re-opening of the dolphinarium after its winter closure (at least to the public, the dolphins were still entombed in there). Around 150 campaigners attended and we marched through the streets and heard speeches from Horace Dobbs and Gordon Panitizke, an ex-dolphin trainer. I also gave a short address. The press were there too in force because of my unwanted fame.

My mother also came to the rally. After the rally a group of us went to Flamingo Land to hand to hand in petitions we had been collecting over the winter calling for the freedom of the dolphins and closure of their prison. Much to my surprise, Bloom came out to receive them. Perhaps he hadn't anticipated that I would be there for he seemed startled when he saw me. However he recovered his posture to say to my mother, when she enquired of me, if this was him (Bloom) "yes, we've met at Amble". He was referring to the occasion, and my mum happened to stay in the same guest house as him. I could see she was getting upset, so I said, "yes and we'll be meeting in court" and with a furrowed frown, he turned away and walked back into the zoo.

I told the press I would defend myself vigorously. That's how I viewed it. I vowed to turn my trial into one for Bloom and his 'industry'. Horace Dobbs pledged his support as an expert witness and so did Doug Cartlidge for which I was extremely grateful. In the hierarchical society we live in, it would be useful to have a doctor support me and Doug knew the 'industry' better than most and the tactics they use to discredit those who oppose them.

After the initial rally in York, in the following weeks we set up pickets on a regular basis at Flamingo Land with our banners, placards and leaflets. The intention was to dissuade the public from going in to the dolphin show, thereby creating pressure if the dolphin show was getting less crowded. We knew it would be impractical to ask people to boycott the whole zoo and fairground as people had perhaps driven a considerable distance to the place with their children. Any campaign relies on only a few hard core activists and this was going to be no different. From Manchester we had to make a 200 mile round trip. The following year, 1992, we had help from Hull Newcastle and Bradford animal rights group. Our campaign was deemed newsworthy even more so because of my situation.

Bloom owned the dolphins. They had been captured off the coast of Florida in 1983 and 1984. He supplied them under contract to the zoo which was owned by Robert Gibb. Gibb seemed to hate us. Sometimes at the entrance he would drive his car towards us in an intimidatory fashion. Other times he would send the gardeners out when we were there, as if he wanted to present a face of normality to the customers. One time we were there one of the workmen told me that they did the work the day before our picket by mistake, so he reprimanded them and made them do it again, whilst we were there! I knew from snippets of information like this, our presence both in the media, and at the front-gates, was having an effect.