Chapter 21: Raid on Unilever, and Prison
Raid on Unilever
You are not friends of society, you are enemies of it, that I believe is your true purpose
This article was published by Arkangel in 2004, entitled UNILEVER REVISITED; TWENTY YEARS ON
I think it was the 8th August 1984. lt was a Sunday and it turned out to be the hottest day of the year - not really the best of weather for running round Unilever laboratories at Sharnbrook in Bedfordshire in a balaclava!
In 1984 the animal rights movement was less than a decade old. The eighties were the years of the leagues: The Northern Animal Liberation League (NALL), The South East Animal Liberation League (SEALL), The Central Animal Liberation League (CALL) and The Eastern Animal Liberation League (EALL).
League tactics differed from those of the ALF; their methodology depended on organising audacious raids in broad daylight using large numbers of activists who would swamp security - and hopefully evade the Police!
The raid on Unilever was organised by the Eastern Animal Liberation League. NALL members who had been invited to participate travelled down in a van the day before to attend a meeting in a hall somewhere on the Saturday evening prior to the event. The meeting was attended by an impressive number of activists. All I can remember of the briefing on the raid was that the NALL was given the toughest lab in the complex to penetrate. Perhaps our northern reputation went before us, as only a few months earlier the NALL had organised a raid on ICI at Alderley Edge! l recall saying to someone that local activists with a better knowledge of the laboratory grounds should have got that job and us a softer area! As we left the hall at the end of the brieﬁng, Mr West (a pseudonym, as he was never arrested), told us that we should: "think of the animals."
How true that was and still is! But the raid on the labs was never to liberate animals (although I believe some rats may have been liberated); it was to liberate information on the activities of the fourth biggest multi-national in the world and what animals were being subjected to behind their closed doors.
We hit the entrance gate on the 8th in a convoy of vans. Getting through on foot wasn't a major obstacle. We then had to run up a drive to the laboratory buildings, which were a distance of some 1/4 - 1/2 mile. It was certainly a hot day, but a few people who didn't seem to have any sense of urgency (and pretty much just ambled the route) were a bit slow. We had been advised that we would have 30 or 40 minutes in the labs before Bedfordshire police got there so time was of the essence. We reached a 12 foot steel or aluminium palisade fence which surrounded the labs. It was an amazing sight to see one activist with a petrol-driven stonecutter who was cutting sections in the fence to allow people access to the ofﬁce area.
Once through the fence, doors were ‘sledgehammered' into submission to gain access to ofﬁce buildings. At some point a security car turned up; someone lobbed a sledgehammer at it and it disappeared as fast as it came. I guess they must've ﬁgured they didn't get paid for trying to apprehend up to 150 determined hooded activists!
With the thirty minutes time limit up, it was time to disappear. We had been told where to leave and where cars would pi us up, but after 30 minutes we could hear or see the places on the outskirts starting to ﬁll up with the law. The group l was in decided to head for Santa Pod drag car racecourse, which was another pick up point. It was 2 or 3 miles across country. We got there and hung about for a short while until a van picked us up and that's where our problems started.
Leaving the course, we ran into a police roadblock where we were stopped. While our driver was being questioned, I remember saying to a few people in the van that we should make a run for it while we had the chance, but there was an air of resignation; perhaps people were just tired or had run out of adrenalin. Maybe they thought the police wouldn't be able to charge us with offences as we were seven road miles away from the raid! Really we should never have been arrested. We should have taken our chances and made a rn for it from the police roadblock or been as smart as other activists. Someone had been taken ill at Santa Pod. An ambulance was called and several activists got in the ambulance with the sick person. The ambulance went through the police blocks and thus they evaded arrest. In our case, however, police reinforcements arrived and we were all detained at Bedfordshire police station for around 26 hours.
The police ﬁnally released us from custody barefooted! (They kept our shoes for forensic tests); we were charged with conspiracy to burgle and conspiracy to cause criminal damage. I believe virtually everyone answered “no comment” when interrogated. (During our subsequent trial, Pert the prosecutor even alleged this was a conspiracy!)
We were on police bail for nearly two years until April 1986. In all, 41 people were arrested, but a lot of activists carrying a lot of ﬁles did manage to evade the police. Indeed, someone who worked in a well-known anti-vivisection organisation told me that a decade after the raid, information taken from Unilever was still being used.
No one could have predicted Bedfordshire police's effective response to the Unilever raid. Police attending the ICI raid only four months earlier had been less effective and they didn't arrest everyone they could have arrested. A short time after the lCl raid, activists who had been inside the labs got out and then joined the demonstration at the main gate. Perhaps that's what created some complacency at Unilever.
During police bail the prosecution claimed over £40,000 damage was carried out. At trial it was accepted as £14,000 or £18,000.
They split us into three trials, the ﬁrst two were at Northampton Crown Court and ours was at Leicester. The ﬁrst two had opposing outcomes. Trial one, all were guilty but two. Trial two, all were acquitted but three.
In our trial there appeared to be less evidence on us, but Pert the prosecutor had a sympathetic jury and convicted thirteen out of fourteen of us, even though there appeared less evidence on most than on people in the second trial! Before the trial it seemed to me that two conspiracy charges weren't that serious since all the evidence on us was circumstantial. However as our trial progressed and Pert linked it all together, it started to look damning: i.e. activists from different parts of the country arrested together in a van, pictures of individuals on security ﬁlm were alleged to be some of the accused, cuts on shoes were alleged to relate to broken glass from ofﬁce and lab windows. In all, twenty seven out of the forty were guilty... Tragically, Andy of Bristol died whilst on bail.
In our six week trial there were light moments. One barrister told his client his 'perfomance' in the witness box, was the worst he'd had the misfortune to witness! It wasn't unusual for people to nod off in the airless, hot courtroom. On the back row of three, four of us were more hidden from Judge Wild's beady eyes. In one session, I woke myself up, by banging my head on the wall behind me, only to see the other three deep in slumber! One of the prosecution witnesses related how they confronted people in balaclavas in the grounds of Unilever by saying "if you're so proud of what you're doing take off your hoods.” "What was the reply?" asked Pert. "F..k off you stupid bag!"
The Manchester contingency of four decided on a similar defence story, which was that we went for a peaceful occupation and once inside the lab complex we saw things we hadn't expected and left as soon as possible! lt pretty much wrecked our admittedly weak defence, when the fourth defendant (a well known activist of present day campaigns, claimed he saw sledgehammers and balaclavas from the outset at the entrance gate. His defence was he didn't enter the grounds, but went around the perimeter fence to escape the trouble. (He even returned to Unilever while under police bail to memorise his escape route for his court story). His was the only not-guilty verdict, probably because he had a more plausible story and because he was but sixteen or seventeen at the time! With the beneﬁt of hindsight and if I had known that another option existed, as adopted by the women who damaged the Hawk jet in the mid-90s, I would have taken it. Their plea was one of not guilty on the grounds that their actions were motivated by the attempt to prevent a greater crime of genocide in East Timor. Crown Court is no place to fabricate a story and as Pert the prosecutor said to me when cross-examining: "that's not the truth Mr Cooper is it!" Yet on sentencing he passed his regards on to me via my relatives, so l think he respected us all in some way. Unlike Judge Wild. After spending ﬁve or six weeks on Judge's remand (found guilty, awaiting sentencing), we were hauled before him for sentencing and a lecture. "You are not friends of society. You are enemies of it, that I believe is your true purpose." Quite a compliment to be called an enemy of a society that views animals as utilities or products. I may have it inscribed on my tombstone!
So all those idealistic people who swamped Unilever labs in August 1984, I salute you. We were young! The movement was young, we inevitably made mistakes, but the courts feared our audacity. To try and prevent similar raids, they sentenced 25 people to imprisonment of over forty years (two received suspended sentences). I believe we are still the greatest number of people to face the same conspiracy charges in Britain. The heavy sentencing seemed to work too. The NALL was ﬁnished, as were the other leagues (although The Central Animal Liberation League was to continue a little longer). The Leagues had worked and served their time. Perhaps the end of the leagues prompted an even more radical approach and more damage to animal abusers was to follow by the ALF. Around the same period hunt saboteurs (who began ﬁghting back too!) became less inclined to tolerate being hospitalised.
To this day, 20 years on, thirty minutes inside Unilever is still one of the most empowering thirty minutes I've had in my life. The subsequent 2 year prison sentence of which I serveded eight months wasn't fun but it was educational. Prison wasn't palatable, but I chewed it and digested it. l came out with renewed determination.
Only a few years after prison, what really hurt and offended far more than HMP, was when the police and the CPS decided once again to take me to Crown Court. They tried to convict me again with a blatantly trumped up and extremely distasteful charge, if they had succeeded it would have discredited the movement l was part of and the personal repercussions would have made it unlikely I would still be around, to write this article now. As it was, l was found 'not guilty' by a unanimous verdict. Crown Court is no place to lie as stated previously.
The spirit will never be defeated!
Alan Cooper - Cetacea Defence
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to ﬁnd that all was vanity but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their dream with open eyes and make it possible. T.E.Lawrence
Without prisoners, we don't have a movement
As the trial was nearing a conclusion, it seemed likely that I would be found guilty. Prison didn't appear appealing. At best I felt apprehensive and at worst fearful of losing my liberty. I had never been in the sort of trouble before to have HMP beckoning. I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be a microcosm of normal society. If a con(vict) smiled, I smiled back or exchanged smalltalk, if others were aloof or unfriendly I kept my head down and did my "bird" as you are told to do. Nearly thirty years later, I can still remember some people I was celled up with. Celled up meaning two or three to a prison cell.
There was Kevin, he was in for armed robbery, he kept his bit of the cell neat and tidy, a picture of his wife on a table. One day he said he liked me but I was too untidy. His definition of that was that I kept too many magazines of animal rights, climbing and cycling stacked up on my table! Now it is a rule that if cons don't get on with each other, the last one in moves out. I was last in, but he moved out. Not really the stereo typical image I had of an (tidy) armed robber! Then there was the biker, he was in for arson, burning down a friend's house. He had a false foot and he used to take it off each evening to wash the stump. Not very palatable to watch, still at the time I was eating my "vegan fayre" with my hands as I found that preferable to using utensils that had been used for eating meat. We must have been the two most eligible batchelors in the UK at the time, except for the fact we were behind bars. Thirty years on, I thinkI I still am.
We had a few words about our offences, then a quiet period, then another moved out on me! Good job I'm not the sensitive type or I would have become paranoid. Actually this short spell in with the biker was a low point of the sentence and I remember in an effort to lift my spirits, I thought that one day I'd laugh about it.
I had short spells with Boris Barker and Keith Griffin two other Unilever prisoners, thankfully they didn't move out on me! There was Jock, 'the moth man'. We were thrown together in a workshop assembling nuts and bolts. There was plenty of time to talk in this less than mind stretching job. He wanted to know what I ate as a vegan and what had I done to be in the nick. I explained about the raid on Unilever, he just looked straight at me and it was hard to know if he had respect or thought I was an idiot. One day he came back from the toilet and said "Hey Alan look", he opened a matchbox and inside was a large moth. "Soon as we get outside I'll let it go, if I hadn't caught it, some fucking idiot would have killed it". It was touching and I thought if someone like him who had been incarcerated for long periods of his life could show care, then there may still be hope for humanity.
I remember Tony the fraudster from my last few months at open prison. I received pre-parole leave just before Christmas 1996 and he asked me if I would bring him back a parcel of whisky and cigs. Coming back to the prison I was running late and had to ask my mum and sister to place the parcels by a large tree in the perimeter hedge. Tony had agreed he would find the parcels when dusk fell. He gave me a wink and a one finger, to say he could only find his. A bit later a prison officer approached me with a smile and asked me if I had lost something. My parcel had been picked up, I would have loved to have been there to have seen the expression on their face, when the parcel was opened and inside there was only vegan food, well ... and a bottle of Malibu. I told the officer, "at least now you know what a vegan eats". I wasn't put on charge for it because he said it wasn't malicious, they must have thought there wasn't a black market for vegan food!
I found the prison officers to be professional and the odd one to be sympathetic. It was at the open prison where there was more contact with them, at closed nicks it was just them opening and closing the cell door or supervising in the exercise yard or in the workshop. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that phrase can be used to sum up my dealings with prison governors, board of visitors and prison doctors. I saw governors in an attempt to get non-leather shoes and cruelty-free toiletries. Despite eloquent speeches to them on the ethics of being vegan, all I got was a dismissive response, especially from the governor at Leicester who told me my application about footwear was dismissed and "to be off". I had a bit more success with shampoo and soap but had to go through the same procedure when I was moved from Leicester to Stafford.
The doctors were even more obnoxious than the governors. I saw a woman doctor in Leicester, as she read my file, she said "35, married?", "no" I replied, "girlfriend?", "no" I replied, "boyfriend?", no I replied, "then what do you do for sex?" she said. If I had been quick witted, I would have said, "how much are you charging!", but mumbled something like, "not a lot in here".
The other memorable time I had to visit a doctor was because of thread worms. Now these will test ones vegan's principles to the limit and these were my limit. I explained to the doctor at Winston Green in Birmingham that I had experienced an infestation a few weeks before. He replied, pointing at me, "you dirty man, you don't wash your hands". I corrected him and left with the necessary medication, but could you imagine visiting your GP and being dealt with the same lack of professionalism?
I had more decency from the chief catering officer at Leicester prison. I had told them I was a raw food vegan, simply because I feared any cooked food might not be vegan. My main meal one evening was, a raw potato, a carrot and an onion all given whole to me. The catering officer came to see me and said "why am I sending you this?" I told him I was a raw food vegan and added "also it is because I don't trust the cooked food will be vegan". He looked at me and said, I am authorised by the Home Office to provide you with a vegan diet, that is what you will get, nothing more or less. He said it with such conviction, that I believed him, I also realised that unless I ate properly, I wouldn't be getting out, other than in a wooden box.
This conversation came a few days after being interned. I had missed the court verdict due to an infection and was transferred from hospital to a prison hospital ward cell. As I was shown to a bed, there were a number of other inmates enjoying television as it was association time. It was probably the lowest time on my sentence, it felt as if I had been thrown into an asylum rather than into prison. A day or two later, I sat watching television too!
During the incarceration I got a tremendous ammount of letters from animal rights people. One day I got over ten. I was allowed only a few free letters a week to reply. When I was moved to an open prison I joined the small running club. We used to go for quite long runs outside on Sunday ranging from 10-20 miles. I took the opportunity to recycle unfranked stramps, stuffing several envelopes down my shorts and on seeing the first red pillar box, post them. It was an abuse and it felt good to be winning little things in their system.
I think people who don't normally break the law have an innate fear of incarceration and probably developed for the reason to help human society function and why laws are kept. However laws are made by humans some are good and some are bad. Some laws are transient and can be changed by government by the demand of public, i.e. homosexuality was unlawful a few decades ago and now is legal.
Vivisection and factory farms and other forms of animal slavery are considered legal and an offence would have to be committed to liberate animals from them. I know in future that the laws that protect such premises from unlawful acts will in themselves be deemed offensive and changed and people who try and rescue or even destroy such premises will be charged with not being enemies of society but friends of it.
My eight months in prison wasn't wanted and would have best been avoided, by not being caught, but it wasn't like the life sentence given to animals in all sorts of institutions. Although the prison service had dealt with other animal rights prisoners before us, I hope that the twenty five of us spread over different prisons made it easier for the prisoners who came after us to obtain a vegan diet and cosmetics. In future animal activists will be a new breed, they will not have to break the law because they will be law makers. The new activist will have realised that we are all subject to laws of one type or another and will not infiltrate labs but will infiltrate parliaments to create laws that protect animals. All in all HMP was an experience not to be missed but certainly not to be repeated.
Vivisection stinks climb; the author hanging out on a spectacular stunt up the chimney of Manchester medical school in the early 1990s.