|SUCCESS FOR THE SANCTUARY
Alistair McConnachie reports on the successful fight to save Mossburn Animal Centre. This item was published in a Special Sovereignty Report distributed free with the May 2001 issue.
"The fact is that Mossburn ... has changed Government policy in Scotland over the three km cull - and no amount of spin by any politician will convince Scottish farming otherwise." The Scottish Farmer, 'Opinion' editorial, 19 May 2001, p.14.
For the past 13 years Mossburn Animal Centre has been home to Juanita Wilson, (left with Alistair McConnachie) her staff and the unwanted cattle, pigs, sheep and goats which she has rescued and brought for safe keeping to her Sanctuary outside Hightae, near Lockerbie, south west Scotland.
I met Juanita on the night that myself and a group of concerned colleagues held a meeting in St. Boswells, Roxburghshire, which advocated an end to the slaughter of healthy animals and which promoted the alternative of vaccination. She and I thought it would be important and necessary to hold a meeting in Lockerbie as soon as possible and so we organised a meeting for the following Monday 30th April.
In the event, Lockerbie was a huge success with over 200 people packing the local Academy to hear a wide range of speakers.
However, suddenly, within the following few days, Juanita received notification from MAFF that the healthy sheep and goats (right) on her Sanctuary were to be slaughtered. There was no mention of the pigs on the farm, which indicated the "sheer illogical attitude" of the authorities. Juanita voiced her suspicion publicly that this was "payback" for having helped to organise the Lockerbie meeting. We know there was at least one person at the meeting who was outraged that Juanita's animals had not been killed, when all the other animals in the area had been killed weeks ago.
Picture: Henry the Goose thinks he's a sheep, and is protective of his pal, Todge.
I kept in touch with the Sanctuary as they exhausted various legal routes intended to halt MAFF for as long as possible. During these days Juanita, her daughter Phillipa, and her staff worked to get as many people as possible to come to the Sanctuary and provide a defensive presence. We knew that the last thing MAFF wanted was publicity, cameras, video-tapes and people watching their rotten deeds. MAFF knows this is only a policy which can be conducted with the absolute minimum of exposure.
Various groups of animal activists visited Mossburn, some staying for a day, others camping in the fields. By Thursday 10th May, however, it looked like all was going to be lost. MAFF was on its way. The time had come.
* * * * *
It was a gorgeous sunny Thursday afternoon as I rented a car and drove the two hours down to Mossburn Animal Centre. As I pulled over the ridge of the hill outside Hightae, around 4pm, I spyed it. Indeed, I couldn't miss it for the TV satellite vans outside, and the police cars parked on the main road.
Mossburn sits off a side road, which sits at right angles to the main B7020. There is a short entrance driveway of about 50 yards up to the farmyard from the side road.
Picture: Stuart Brown with his T-shirt, which reads "Blair, don't get our goat - or sheep!"
I pulled in on the main road and walked up the side road. There were around 40 people, not including the media: a mix of neighbours, animal rights vegans, religious people, and outraged animal lovers and freedom activists such as tireless Stuart Brown, from Hamilton, and Dr Richard North. Representatives from almost all the media packed the sideroad which ran past the entrance driveway to Mossburn: BBC, Sky, STV, Border, and local and national journalists.
MAFF had not attempted to force entry. There were too many people around, and especially too many cameras. But it seemed they had done a deal - which was as good as Juanita felt she could get at that particular moment. The deal was that the animals would be killed Friday morning at 10am, but by Mossburn's regular vet and not by a MAFF official.
This was not what anybody wanted but, at that moment, it seemed that this was the best that was available. Juanita, however, was still "fighting mad"...
* * * * *
The long hot afternoon and evening wore on. Gradually the animal activists drifted away. Many had stayed for several days and decided that there was nothing left for them to do.
Early evening, a police car drove up the side road, past the entrance. Police officers peered out. Clearly, they were looking to see how many people were left. There was no doubt they were watching and waiting.
Those of us remaining took up post at the entrance on the side road (Alistair, left). About 8pm, a car pulled up. Everyone at the gate jumped to attention. A man and woman got out. Who are you? MAFF? Thankfully, "No".
"GMTV actually. Can we do some interviews?"
"Well, absolutely!" For the next half-hour they filmed the threatened animals and interviewed Juanita, myself and some colleagues. Just before GMTV left, another car pulled up and Elizabeth Walls and Kirstin McBride, (right, being interviewed by GMTV) owners of Misty the Goat, "murdered by MAFF" (Daily Telegraph, 9 April 2001) got out. They lived nearby and had been coming each day to show their solidarity.
The next morning we appeared before GMTV's vast audience of 3 million early morning viewers. I pointed out that "Sanctuary" means "safe haven". Were MAFF attempting to re-define the definition of the word? If they could come here and kill these animals then the Government could come into your home and kill your pets or whatever else you cared for.
As the night wore on, we continued to sit at the entrance, talking in the dark. Did we trust MAFF? If they came to kill the animals tomorrow, what should we do? When would it be proper to resist? How should we resist?
Unknown to us, at that moment, Juanita - still "fighting mad" - was inside receiving some very helpful legal ideas from a supporter who had phoned her, out the blue.
About 11pm she came down the driveway; she was going to be driven to Glasgow right there and then, to sign an Affidavit which could enable the case to be heard again.
The hours passed in concerned and excited chat. It was now about 1am and thanks to Mossburn's wonderful hospitality I was able to stay overnight in the spare bedroom.
It was a sleepless night. What did the morning hold? MAFF had said they would turn up at 10am, and Juanita's vet would administer the needless destruction. A car pulled into the yard about 3.30am. Was it Juanita back from Glasgow?
By 4am the sun was streaming into the bedroom. It was going to be another glorious day. About 5am another car pulled into the yard; A supporter up from England.
* * * * *
5.45am, the door bursts open.
"MAFF! They're on their way!"
I jumped up, pulled on my jeans and boots. "Surely never. It's not even 6 o' clock", I thought. I struggled through to the bathroom, and splashed my face with cold water.
I heard another car. I opened the bathroom window. Kirstin McBride, "Well done her, it's so early".
Almost immediately, I heard the screech of tyres on the side road. I looked out again. To my utter amazement, it was a police Range Rover skidding to a halt. I looked at my watch, ten to six in the morning!
"What the ..."
I crashed through to the bedroom, grabbed my denim shirt and leather jacket, my camera and tape recorder, and careered down the stairs. I rushed out to my car, which I had brought inside the perimeter last night and drove it into a blocking position in the yard. Two cars were already blocked in front of the stables where we had locked the animals last night.
Each stable had The Veterinary Oath pinned to the door, so whoever was entering was reminded they were breaking their professional oath in killing healthy animals.
A tremendous woman I had never seen before - up from England at 5am - was busy chaining herself, by the neck, to the steering wheel of one of the cars, so that the car could not be shifted.
The police were still at the entrance on the side road. Two minutes later, a group of us marched down.
Juanita, armed with her Affidavit, presents it to the officer in charge. "I think you'd better have a look at this." Silence.
He takes it over to the MAFF vet who starts frantically calling someone on her mobile phone. (picture on left)
I decide to get back up to the yard. Inside Mossburn, emergency calls for help are going out.
I take a look down at the main road. I can't believe my eyes. The police are everywhere!
There is a police road-block on the main road. (right)
There are 3 police vehicles sitting at the entrance to the side road off the main road, including a van with 8 officers. (picture below)
Our supporters arriving are being stopped on the main road. The media
are being stopped. They can't get up to us. Nobody can get up to us.
We've been cordoned off.
I go back to tell Juanita the situation. She immediately asks the officer in charge why her friends are not allowed to come and see her. "Road safety" is the somewhat absurd reply. Back at the yard, Juanita and I decide to go down the front field to the road-block to get some answers.
First, however, we crossed over to the side road entrance where 3 police vehicles were sitting, packed with officers. The following was recorded with the Inspector in charge. (picture below right)
Juanita "Although I don't have such a thing, what do you do if
somebody has got an animal locked in the house?"
Onto the main road: Juanita walked through the police line to the friends and media who were desperate to speak to her. (below)
I chose to stay this side of the line. They seemed to know who I was: "Alistair".
After half an hour on the road, we headed back up to the farm. More
waiting and wondering, then suddenly, about 8am, everything changed. The
police jumped into their vans and shot off. They were gone!
* * * * *
Now a brief example of the wonders of modern technology: I immediately borrowed Kirstin's mobile phone and called Jane Barribal of FarmTalking.com an Internet activist who had addressed the St. Boswells meeting with me on the 23rd April.
I told her the latest amazing happenings, she copied it down, and by 9am had circulated the entire story via email, to hundreds of people and press desks. By midday, the story had been read by thousands of people.
* * * * *
Next step: Juanita had to get to Edinburgh to "petition" the Court. At midday she was off, followed by at least 4 television cameras, (right) as she got into the car which was driving her to Court.
We waited in the beautiful sunny afternoon for the news. Finally, around 4pm it came: Another Hearing was to be held on Tuesday 15th, and an Appeal against this second Hearing, lodged by the Scottish Executive, had been thrown out by the judge.
Relief! We had a breathing space until Tuesday but the battle had not yet been won. Late Friday, I drove back to Glasgow.
* * * * *
Monday night, I received a call from Jane Barribal. Had I heard the news? Ross Finnie, the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Minister had announced that there would be no more automatic killing within a 3 km radius. Decisions were now to be made on "a case-by-case basis".
* * * * *
By the time I got to Mossburn on Tuesday morning, the Government had completely backed down on killing the Sanctuary animals.
The deal : If Juanita would agree to regular checking of her animals, and if she would agree to a check of Mossburn's "bio-security" - that is, a check that its fences and such were adequate - then the Government was prepared to back off and the animals could live. We had won!
* * * * *
On reflection, the Government backed down probably for two reasons: One, they did not want the case to be tested in court, for fear they lost, and two, they foresaw a potentially embarrassing PR disaster on the way - killing healthy animals on an animal Sanctuary doesn't look good.
However, there is no doubt that we, the defenders of Mossburn, changed Government policy in Scotland. This was acknowledged by The Scottish Farmer in the quote at the start of this report.
To have changed Government policy, and to have been acknowledged for so doing, is something for which all the activists involved in the Mossburn fight should feel very proud.
Of course, no "automatic" culling within 3km doesn't mean that it still won't happen. Indeed, sheep were culled within a 3km radius shortly thereafter in Wigtownshire. However, the next alleged outbreak in Duns, Berwickshire, was not followed by a 3km cull.
Moreover, we set a precedent which other farmers and pet owners can now point to and use in their defence.
HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP
As she said when the battle was joined: "Slaughtering healthy animals against the owner's wishes is contrary to our rights as British citizens. I am prepared to go all the way to the House of Lords if necessary, not just for my animals, but for everybody who has had animals that have been wantonly and needlessly slaughtered."
"The killing has got to stop and its going to stop here."
She was right. She stood her ground. She defended her animals. She won, and her victory is a victory for us all.