|Report and pictures by Astrid Goddard|
It's a beautiful sunny but very windy morning, just after 9am on Monday 11 March 2002 and over 100 supporters are already lining the pavement outside Dumfries Sheriff Court. BBC television is here, Border television is here. Local radio, and at least eight press photographers are snapping away at the colourful crowd.
Supporters begin to assemble just after 9am.
There is a large number of people up from Cumbria, Richard Mawdsley's here, Elli Logan's here. Dot Boag is here from Suffolk. Sue Burton and Vicki from Essex, Jean Dixon from North Yorkshire arrives in her large camper van decorated with anti-cull slogans. David Oakes from Stockport is here. People from the Hawick and Berwickshire area are here. The Heart of Galloway people from Wigtownshire are here in force and a brilliant banner, commissioned by Juanita Wilson of Mossburn Animal Sanctuary, is being held by the entrance: "11 Million Animals Murdered. It is not Kirstin who should be on Trial"
Below, Mrs McGeary holds the banner aloft.
Just before 10am there is a flurry of excitement. Press photographers struggle for space as Kirstin McBride, her mother Elizabeth, and her step-father George Walls arrive. Kirstin is looking lovely, with a dark coat, white top and pink scarf. Seeing all her supporters and hearing the roar of approval, Kirstin just bursts into tears.
This is the moment which she has been fearing for almost the last year, since the extraordinary killing of her pet animal became national news last April. Photographers stumble into each other as the cameras click and the TV teams jostle for position.
Kirstin hugs supporters and thanks them. She is clearly overwhelmed by the depth of support but needs all the encouragement she can get, as she once again faces the court, for about the sixth time!
Jean Dixon, Dot Boag and David Oakes remain outside to man the banners and leaflet passers-by with an excellent leaflet which explains why we are demonstrating and supporting Kirstin. During the course of the day they leafleted over 800 passers-by.
Inside the courtroom, Kirstin has her back to the crammed public gallery for much of the trial, but it must help to know that so many people are right there behind her. Every seat is filled with a Kirstin supporter.
The Sheriff, Kenneth Ross, begins by mentioning that it is not usual for so much interest to be shown in any case in this court.
Jean Dixon, Alistair and Kirstin at midday.
The witnesses for the crown, Police Sergeant Aileen Graham (38) and Constable Rory Caldow (30), and the veterinary surgeon Mr George Rafferty (76), give evidence, which is not entirely consistent regarding the tragic events on the evening of 5th April last year.
They speak with varying degrees of sympathy for Kirstin's situation, and with apparent conviction that they had nevertheless done the right thing in carrying out the orders from 'The Bunker' (the local MAFF HQ), which came via a police officer, Constable John Henderson.
Questioned by John Martin (the Procurator Fiscal depute, for the Crown) and Arnold Brazenall, Kirstin's solicitor, the witnesses for the Crown tell of how they had tried to 'reason with' Mrs Walls, and how Kirstin had been hysterical when she came home to find Misty dead, and had 'attacked' the policeman, Constable Caldow.
Notably, Constable Caldow admits that Kirstin's emotions were 'understandable.'
There are, however, several discrepancies in the way each of the Crown witnesses describe the events, especially in relation to how Kirstin had allegedly 'attacked' the constable, what she had said, and how she had held a knife which she had fetched from the house, after finding Misty dead.
Kirstin later explained that she had wished to harm herself. However, this had been seen as threatening behaviour at the time, and the knife had been described as an offensive weapon.
Mr Rafferty, questioned by Mr Brazenall, made it very clear that a Form A notice had never been issued to Kirstin and her parents, and there was no justification for assuming that the cottage formed part of the farm which had received a Form A notice and which had been culled out two weeks previously. He had not been able to form any diagnosis in the dark, and there had been no blood test taken.Mr Rafferty said: "I have seen farmers who had not shed a tear in 60 years, who could not speak for the tears coming down their face for the loss of their animals. I didn't see any grief or tears from Miss McBride, just rage."
Well, for some of us, righteous indignation is understandable. Perhaps if Mr Rafferty, and the other vets who so facilitated the slaughter policy had encountered a little more "rage" while they went about their death-dealing business, instead of just pitiful tears, then they might have had more cause to question the rightness of what they were doing.
Kirstin described how she had just wanted to say goodbye to Misty, and kiss her, and how she found Misty in the Ministry Land Rover, with her head in a bag. She was asked if she remembered shouting and swearing at the vet and ministry official. She did not remember clearly if she swore or not but clearly remembered telling the vet that he should be saving animals, not killing them, and that he was acting illegally.
She had got the knife from the cottage in order to harm herself, not in order to attack anyone else. The world had seemed such a dreadful place at that point; she had not wanted to go on living.
Asked by Mr Martin if she had referred to the officials as murderers, and if she did not accept that they were there to do a job, Kirstin said that she believed they had been doing this job "illegally".
Kirstin said, "When they broke into our property, could they not have been arrested? they broke the law and abused our human rights."
When Mr Martin said that surely the proper way was to complain to the proper authorities, Kirstin replied that this was not very practical, she didn't think they would get very far if they tried that and anyway, she would have needed plenty of money to do that and she didn't have that kind of money.
There was applause from the public gallery, and the Sheriff warned everyone to be quiet or he would clear the court, except for the press.
Dot Boag from Suffolk and Andy Hurst from Heart of Galloway, Wigtown, make the message plain.
It was clear from what was being said here, that the only people during the Foot and Mouth crisis who were able to slow down or halt the killing of their healthy animals were those who had access to money. This is a sad reflection on our legal system.
Asked when she had the idea to commit suicide, Kirstin said that it was when she thought, "How can I live in a world like this. I was brought up to trust the police, and I thought if you can't trust the police -- when I have children I will have to tell them when you see a policeman, run away."
Kirstin's stepfather, George Walls, and her mother Elizabeth Walls were also questioned. Elizabeth spoke of how distressing it was when the policeman grabbed Kirstin when she was hysterical in the kitchen, as it was their private grief, and she had wanted to hold and cuddle Kirstin, her "own flesh and blood".
In summing up, John Martin, Procurator Fiscal depute, told the Sheriff: "There is no doubt that the background to this is very disturbing and that the attitude of the accused is as the officer finds, understandable to some extent, but he could not condone her actions."
Mr Brazenall, for the defence, added to the summing up: "There are my Lord, some startling differences between the evidence for the Crown and the evidence for the defence." And further: "No notice was ever served, in particular, a Form A notice, ever declared Flaxfield an infected place. Such a notice must be served on the premises declaring it an infected place."
Mr Brazenall argued that at issue was the legal situation when these events took place. Since no notice was ever served, the circumstances in which the events occurred were unlawful and the breach of the peace which had occurred had been provoked by these unlawful circumstances.
Having heard these words and many other points in support of Kirstin from Mr Brazenall, Mr Martin for the prosecution, referred to a precedent in which police officers were acting in the course of their duty (The case of 'Stirton' or 'Stenton' (?), 1983 SLT report, page 34).
This had been a case where a woman was charged with obstructing police in the course of their duty while they were attempting to arrest her husband. None of the arresting officers had any of the proper documents with them. It was found that it was not whether the police had the arrest warrants, but whether the police officers were acting in accordance with their duty. If the police were acting in good faith and providing they did not know that the circumstances were strictly speaking, unlawful, then they should not be held to account.
Mr Martin for the prosecution argued that the police officers were acting in accordance with their duty, under orders from 'The Bunker'. The Police (Scotland) Act 1967 section 17, he said, clearly sets out their duties. The fundamental duty of a constable is to guard, protect, prevent offences, preserve order, protect life and property. The evidence from them is that they were there to preserve order and were doing their duty as they understood it.
He said that we are not dealing with the Animal Health Act, we are dealing with the 1967 Police Scotland Act. Clearly officers were there on instructions and were carrying out their duty, and one didn't need to look beyond that to the Animal Health Act.
Mr Brazenall, for Kirstin, argued that if the police and officials did something amounting to conduct which caused a breach of the peace - a case of effect rather than intent - then we should ask if Kirstin should be charged with the resulting breach of the peace?
However, the Sheriff asked: "What's your argument? If I commit a breach of the peace, it gives you carte blanche to commit one as well?"
Mr Brazenall responded that this was not the case, it could never be carte blanche, but in this case it did overstep the line.
The Sheriff, Kenneth Ross, retired to take a few minutes to consider the evidence. It was now around 4.30pm...
He returned after about ten minutes.
The Sheriff said that he was not here to decide if the actions of MAFF officials were legal or illegal, although he said: "It seems to me that actions here may not have been legal and proper procedures and terms of the Animal Health Act were not followed."
He said, "It is imperative any actions of public officials that destroy property and invade privacy must be legally carried out. Enthusiasm in an emergency cannot be an excuse. More care was not taken that the correct procedure was followed and particularly that it was explained to those concerned."
He that he considered himself bound by the case which Mr Martin referred to - the police were present to do their duty, under section 17 of the Police Act and arguably section 16 of the Animal Health Act.
He stated that there had been an element of duplication on Charge 3, regarding possession of an offensive weapon and that if he had needed to make a decision on this then he would have accepted Kirstin's evidence that she had intended only to harm herself. However, that charge was dropped.
The Sheriff, however, declared that Kirstin was guilty under Charge 1 of breach of the peace - shouting and swearing, and also guilty of assaulting a police officer by biting him.
However, he accepted that: "It is unlikely we will see you back in this court, Miss McBride".
Taking the "highly exceptional circumstances" into account, the Sheriff said, "I grant you an absolute discharge". At that the public gallery erupted in applause.
The public gallery was cleared and everybody waited downstairs for Kirstin and her family to come down while a court usher tried, rather unsuccessfully, to get everybody to leave the building. However, the photographers were lined up directly outside the court and everyone wanted Kirstin to go first.
Elizabeth, Kirstin and George Walls emerge to the press; sixty supporters behind them in the hall.We held the doors open and Kirstin, her mother and her father walked out, arm in arm, to greet the waiting press. They were snapping pictures for a full five minutes.
The family express delight and relief to the press.
IT'S NOT KIRSTIN WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON TRIAL
During all of the day, while the trial was proceeding, Jean Dixon and Dot Boag were doing sterling work outside the court. They leafleted over 800 passers-by with a leaflet headed "Kirstin is Innocent: Why we are Demonstrating".
This leaflet pointed out:
In addition, there was a massive financial loss to our local economy, and an unquantifiable cost in pollution, civil rights abuse, and human trauma. It is tragic that Kirstin was put in this situation, but her case was just one of thousands of similar tragedies throughout Britain.
The mass slaughter policy was bound to bring such civil and animal abuses in its wake. It is simply not possible to engage in such vast and heartless slaughter without causing immense trauma throughout the country. The real culprits in all of this are the people who promoted this destructive policy - the Government, MAFF, and the farming unions.
These are the people who should be in the dock. It was
their errant policies which forced Kirstin into her situation, and caused
such widespread grief and trauma throughout Britain.