Mic Wright hears what happened to non-violent Animal Rising activists on the day of the Coronation
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There was a van waiting outside. One of the activists waved to the man in the driving seat. They didn’t think there was anything to worry about then; not ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ but close. They knew that what was planned for the group entering the meeting space in Haggerston, five miles away from the Coronation route, had nothing to do with King Charles III or his cavalcade of self-congratulation.
The members of Animal Rising, the direct-action group that advocates animal rights and plant-based foods, had a training session planned. They were going to learn more about non-violent protest action.
But the Metropolitan Police was more interested in violent anti-protest action. The women and non-binary people in the meeting space had just made cups of tea and coffee and sat down in a circle to introduce themselves when the police arrived. It was roughly 10.30 am and 20 officers stormed in.
The officers told the group that they had intelligence that Just Stop Oil planned to disrupt the Coronation and pointed to leaflets, and paint used for screenprinting as ‘proof’. Most of the Animal Rising activists were cuffed but they had to wait about an hour for a police bus to arrive.
They were then held for three hours in the police bus before being processed at the police station and then spent a further nine hours in custody before being released under investigation but not charged. It was after midnight when the women were back on the streets, far from where they had begun the previous day.
Divide and Rule
I spoke with Louisa Hillwood, a primary school teacher and member of Animal Rising who was among those arrested. It was not her first arrest but it was the first time for many of her colleagues and it was a highly distressing experience for them. Louisa told me:
“We’ve been meeting regularly to talk through what happened and support each other. The days after the arrest were difficult and emotional, but now I feel inspired to keep advocating for important causes, and I admire others who do the same.”
I believe that Animal Rising was targeted – just like Republic and Just Stop Oil – with a series of claims that the Met seeded in the right-wing press (specifically the Mail on Sunday) to allow them to make preemptive arrests of activists. Louisa concurs:
“They were trying to intimidate us using repression tactics as old as time. And this shows us that groups like Just Stop Oil are being successful. The Government and the police force are acting out of desperation, and they’re making mistakes. Look at what happened to us – they arrested 14 people because they thought we might be going to protest at the coronation.”
While the arrests of Republic members – including its chief executive Graham Smith – have gained considerable attention, Animal Rising has received far less attention. Louisa says:
“It’s because our arrests weren’t as public as the others and there was no video footage. The police have been able to hide what they’ve done. They will eventually drop our cases because they have absolutely no evidence, but they will drag out our investigations as long as they can. All the groups – Republic, Just Stop Oil etc. – have been talking about the Animal Rising arrests. But the media isn’t reporting it and the police are covering it up. The police very often make wrongful arrests, but they rarely make the headlines.”
The police worked hard to divide and conquer; they treated Republic marginally better than Just Stop Oil and Animal Rising, and tried to frame the arrests of a monarchist who found herself standing next to Just Stop Oil, and volunteers who were in possession of rape alarms as part of their work with night safety group Night Stars as ‘unfortunate mistakes’ and caused by officers from forces other than the Metropolitan Police. Louisa fights back against those tactics robustly:
“Animal Rising works hard to support people who have been arrested and will be there for us through the journey of holding the police to account for our wrongful arrests.We also recognise the need for solidarity across movements because the positive change we need to see in this country requires work from many different directions.”
Like Riz Choudry of Night Stars and other people who were wrongly arrested by the Met, Louisa and her compatriots still have not had their phones returned. She explains:
“They searched our belongings while at the office and obviously found nothing related to any alleged crime or conspiracy. They seized nothing from the meeting space, but they did seize our phones and are refusing to return them (although two of our group had their phones returned when they were released from custody). That just goes to show that they know the phones hold no evidence. The Met is just keeping them as some kind of misplaced punishment.”
Louisa and the rest of Animal Rising are now making formal complaints to the Met. She goes on:
“We are reaching out to our MPs and councillors – a number of us have already received letters of support from our local representatives. We’ve joined our voices to those from Just Stop Oil and Republic as solidarity is needed to defeat state repression. Our right to dissent and to protest is so important in ensuring our country becomes more fair and equal.”
When I met with Louisa and several other members of Animal Rising, I was struck by their solidarity with each other and with the wider group of protestors and activists. They had been shaken by the police’s heavy-handed and baseless operation but they have quickly returned to a position of strength: They have each other, the rest of Animal Rising, supportive partners, and new and strengthened alliances with other groups like Just Stop Oil and Republic.
The police wanted to smash Animal Rising; they have just made them even stronger. Direct and distressing encounters with the Metropolitan Police taught more lessons than any training session ever could but the women and non-binary people put through that experience didn’t deserve it and should not have had to endure it.
Sadly there are many people who think the police must have had intelligence. For me, it suggests this inalienable truth: nothing that the Met does is intelligence-led.
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