Animal Protection > AR Interviews

A BLAST FROM THE PAST 

     This interview is with a UK A.L.F. activist.

     How do you go about carrying out actions?

     There are a number of aspects that one has to take into consideration. First and foremost it's important to look round the region at all the targets, laboratories, and as many of the factory farms as one can find, hunt kennels, fur shops, abattoirs, etc. If actions have taken place already in your home area it's a good idea to go for the most straightforward, squirting paint stripper from a lemon juice squeeze or a washing up liquid squeeze bottle over the van(s) of an animal exploiter, gluing up fur shop locks to start with, then progress to factory farms which generally are not alarmed (there is the odd one that is particularly those that belong to the large chain stores). If no actions, or only one or two small actions have taken place, it may be beneficial to go for a laboratory, the reasoning being that once things start in your area the labs will start investing in more security measures. There are still labs with only minimal security. The animals are not necessarily in the labs at all times. There is usually an animal house in a separate building where animals are held until needed, or in some cases are bred there. We can usually gain access to the grounds, (we're not put off by the usual security fence with strands of barbed wire, these can be climbed with practice - we use the concrete posts as a support and wear 2-3 pairs of gloves when learning. N.B. Razor wire is much more tricky/dangerous - be careful!) we usually find the buildings with animals have fans operating, pumping out the stale air and the fresh in. We can smell which one has them (the animals) within.

     With factory farm units we can tell what kind of animals, if any, are in the units, simply by placing our ears against an air duct on the side of the unit or at the door, listening and smelling. Or we try shining a pencil torch, with coloured plastic held over the end by an elastic band, through any openings. In fact, we double or triple the layers of plastic so that only the minimum of light gets through, not only reducing the chance of anyone else seeing, but shine a bright light onto battery hens and they may well make a lot of noise. We always try the door handle, etc. and have been pleasantly surprised a couple of times to find it is unlocked. With experience one can often tell what animals are held in a particular unit by its shape, size and building materials used.

     When looking at potential targets, we don't take balaclavas, etc. We also make a point of emptying our pockets of everything including door keys, discarding matching jewelry etc. before setting out, in case we drop anything. If we need to cover our faces a scarf is fine and we wear gloves of course We also carry bird watching books and binoculars. Usually a lad and a girl will go by public transport or be dropped off at a pre-arranged time. We avoid parking a car in an area where a future target is being looked over, unless it's hidden. We try to limit our visits to any target to one or two and we do not leave any trace of our visit. We find we can make a totally silent look round by removing our shoes, though this is usually unnecessary. During the day we explore the approaches to the target with the help of an Ordnance Survey (O.S.) map, looking for a suitable dropping off point/place to stash the vehicle(s), emergency meeting point if necessary, noting any guard dogs at the target or in the gardens of homes along the route in. After dark we walk the route to ensure there are no guard dogs, go in and examine the units, check if there are any animals in them, can we climb in through an air duct, if not, what types of locks will we have to deal with. If it's a lab, and not straightforward, we need to know the times of security patrols, then we'd do a spot of camping nearby.

     In our group there are four people and over a period of time we have equipped ourselves with ordinary scarves for covering our heads and faces, gloves, two crowbars (one small roughly a foot long, the other roughly a yard) a large screwdriver, a well oiled brace and 1" auger bit (it's a wood boring drill the type used to make the hole in your door for the Yale lock), two mortar drills (one being extra long), two sledgehammers (a 14'lb one with a full handle and a 10'lb one with the handle cut to 20" for working in a confined space), a pair of boltcutters, two 35mm SLR cameras with flashgun (with diffuser and tilt - occasionally we can bounce off the ceiling to get natural shadow). Duracell batteries are used in the flashgun - recharge is then much quicker. We use 400 ASA B&W film in one, and 100 ASA colour slides in the other. When we carried out our first raid there were three people with scarves, gloves and large screwdriver. We rescued 36 hens. Four sacks each, one carried on each shoulder by their draw strings and one in each hand, 3 hens in each sack.

        We have since found that cardboard boxes are fine for chicks, etc., if the `items' involved are  rodents we sometimes find the cages in which they are housed are portable and we place the lot in our boxes or rucksacks. For hens and rabbits we use fairly large sacks (approx. 24" wide X 36" long) with rope nylon drawstrings in the middle. The rope is threaded in and out of the sack at 6" to 8" intervals and the length, when knotted together is the same as the circumference of the sack. We seal the double knot of the rope by using a match and literally lighting the two ends. As the nylon melts we blow out the flames and the resulting black blobs keep the strands together.

  Another useful item that we make from a sack is a guard sack. Two brush poles are sprayed a dark colour, then placed inside the sack, one either side, and stitched securely into place. Roughly 6 - 8" of the handles protrude. One or two of these act as good barriers when you have to deal with a guard dog. The protruding poles are placed under the armpits and are held as high as possible. If anyone asks what they are they would be told that they are hides for photographing wildlife.

     The actual day chosen for the raid is considered well in advance. A full moon and no clouds means a well-lit night which is undesirable, as are hot muggy nights when people find it hard to get to sleep. Overcast nights are good, and any rain is very welcome. With a particularly difficult target, everyone is made aware that we are expecting `bad' weather and to expect very short notice. It is also important not to work to a pattern (e.g. actions every Friday/Saturday night). Weekends evenings are good because of the amount of people travelling to and from pubs/clubs, but for night raids weekdays are more appropriate because of the amount of early morning traffic. Saturday nights are the worst possible, the roads early Sunday are dead. On the day of the raid a planning meeting takes place and a thorough briefing/discussion takes place. Details dealt with include the transport of equipment and activists, time of raid and departure, while studying a plan of the target - who will be responsible for being a lookout breaking in, taking the animals, holding the sacks/boxes, where to meet up if things go wrong, who will be acting as back up by sitting at a phone, ensuring everyone has a few ten pences and some emergency money - while the raid may go OK, a car could break down. Everyone empties their pockets. We do take a container of water if the raid is likely to take a long time - wearing a mask for lengthy periods results in dry throat and coughing.
     Before the tools are transported everything is wiped first with a rag soaked in warm soapy water and then again with a dry rag. This also goes for the cameras (and battery), flashgun (and batteries), everything, even glasses if worn. A further refinement is to cover our clothes with something like a boiler suit or old baggy clothes over our normal clothes and have a spare set of footwear. These items virtually eliminate the risk of us carrying traces home. These items can be discarded when we return to the vehicle(s), placed in a black bin bag it all looks like jumble. Someone has the responsibility of thoroughly washing the scarves, gloves, boiler suits/old clothes and shoes immediately upon returning after a raid. This person is not directly involved in the action and stores the clothes and equipment. In other words we use a `safe house'. Generally speaking, the arrangements for events after the action are just as important as the precautions beforehand.

     Before setting off we make sure that everyone has a plausible reason for travelling in that direction or homewards, we consult the music press to see if there are any concerts applicable. If a male activist is driving, a female member will sit behind him. The police have a habit of glancing into cars and mixed company is far less likely to be stopped.

     Choosing the day for the raid can be crucial. If possible we carry out the raid mid-evening so that we are home before 10:30-11:30 pm. Once the pubs close, and particularly after midnight there is always the chance of a spot check by the police looking for burglars. If travelling by car (we avoid hired vans, hired cars are OK, the police take less notice of new cars) we try to arrange for the tools, and hoods if used, to be well hidden in the target area by mid-evening by just two people - a girl and a lad using public transport if possible. We take only the minimum amount of equipment.

      The raid may need to be at night. Battery hens often make quite a din, though we are not put off by this. Unless we carry out the action while the house is unoccupied or is some distance away we raid the unit at 3-4 am while everyone is fast asleep. We never travel between 12 midnight and 6-7 am there or back. We arrive in the evening and hide out in a wood (we avoid the local pubs for the obvious reason) and time the raid so that we arrive back at the transport after the raid shortly before dawn. Generally speaking, by planning well ahead we tend to concentrate on late evening raids during the summer and night-time raids during the long nights of autumn and winter. The transport will often be minimum of one mile away from the target and probably two or three miles away hidden in a field or wood (we carry a good quality compass in case we have to leave in a hurry, though it's generally not required). Vehicles are never parked in country lanes as the police will generally treat them as stolen vehicles that have been dumped, or certainly suspicious. Anyone sitting in such a vehicle will certainly be questioned. We push the car(s) down a track into a wood or similar. Pushing does away with driving with lights on and resultant noise and thus dealing any locals out walking the dog. We have parked in a nearby housing estate, leaving the vehicle(s) locked and empty, the drivers returning in couples to pick up the vehicles, and later the raiders. If the target is in an awkward area the raider can be picked up by vehicles returning at a prearranged time or called in by portable C.B.'s (again Duracell batteries are used).

     If there are a number of cars hidden in a field/wood for an evening raid, depending on circumstances, it may be prudent for driver(s) to remain hidden nearby and watch that no dog walkers/courting couples stumble across them. If this were to happen and the dog walker/couple take a lot of notice, the vehicle(s) are moved to the emergency meeting place. When the raid is over one person travels ahead and checks that the transport is o.k.

     The first thing we do during an actual raid is for the look out(s) to get into position. Binoculars are a very useful addition that can be used at night. They may take a little getting used to, focusing and time for ones eyes to adjust but it's work worth persevering. We find the usual, long, thin straps on binoculars are unsuitable. They not only leave them dangling, and thus banging on fences being climbed, etc. but they're also uncomfortable to wear after a time. We substitute wide camera straps, suitably shortened. If portable C.B.'s are being used they are tested beforehand to make sure they are in working order and tuned in. Because of the noisy static when both units are switched on, the raiders will have their C.B.'s switched on all the time while the look-out(s) will have theirs switched off. This gives total silence; if the look-out needs to reach the raiders, a flick of the switch and it's on and ready to use. However, we do not rely on the C.B.'s alone as sometimes we may be working in a spot that gives poor reception. The look-outs should be positioned so that they can also warn the raiders directly and quickly. Usually bleeps are used rather than voices on the C.B.'s, two bleeps to keep still and quiet, four for `all clear' and continuous bleeping if it is time to run for it, though we've not had to use the last sequence so far.

     We have once or twice locked a gate using a plastic covered bike lock. This method is both quick and silent and ensures security vehicles cannot pursue us.

     Usually we do not cut the telephone wires but occasionally this is necessary. Either they are cut near the house or office, if this is not possible, a piece of brick is tied to a nylon rope and is thrown over the wire between two poles and two people will pull the wire down. It's usually a struggle and requires two people to use all their weight to yank it down. Wires are not cut at the big commercial labs as they are likely to have alarms connected via the phone lines to the nearest police station. (note: Most business intrusion alarms these days are wired into the phone line. Cutting the phone lines may trip either an audible or silent alarm)

     When entering the target area we usually have to deal with a fence of some sort, two people go forward and deal with it. The ordinary 3 strand barbed wire farm fences have the bottom 2 strands cut only. The top one prevents cows or horses following us or straying in the road. On the other hand, anyone pursuing us will be in for a shock. If it's a chain link fence we cut a strand at the very top, following that strand down through the others to about thigh height from the ground and cut it again. Then, holding the strand where it is cut at the bottom we force it to twist and corkscrew it out. We can then part the fence and climb through the gap. We leave the bottom part uncut if there are guard dogs, if disturbed it would be harder for them to get out after us, particularly if the top half is also blocked by one of the guard sacks with the poles jammed in the netting. The same two people then check out the unit and immediate area.

     When actually breaking in to (say) a factory farm unit, usually all that is required is a large screwdriver and a couple of crowbars to deal with a Yale lock on the front door (straightforward) or to deal with the inside bolt(s) on the back door. In the case of the back door, if it's a tight fitting one we first pull it from the bottom, we can then judge where the inside bolt or first bolt is. We force the first screwdriver roughly 12" from the bolt and force the opening until the small crowbar can be inserted. Further force is exerted until the large crowbar can be put in by a second person, who puts their full weight behind it and rocks it to and fro, forcefully yet gently. The idea is to make the screws which hold the lock/bolt eventually pop out, not to take the door off its hinges.

     For padlocks, we may need to use boltcutters, we ignore the lock and go for the hasp which is often mild steel. With the cutters in place, a wet towel is wrapped round the cutter and hasp. This helps to deaden the sharp crack noise. If we are unsure about a door being alarmed, the two people who dealt with the fence will also break in and then rejoin the rest of the group for 30-40 minutes to watch for any reaction, from a couple of fields away.

     If the animals being liberated are battery hens, all the group enters very quietly, then closes the door. A torch covered with coloured plastic is switched on. The cages are opened. A variety of different types of cages are used, common sense tells us if they unclip, slide up or across. A last resort is simply to tear them apart with our hands. We are not put off by the noise the hens will be making by now. Due to the barbaric conditions it's not unusual for fighting to break out, so factory farmers are used to outbreaks of noise. Having closed the door most of the noise is absorbed by the usual wooden building.

     Working in twos, one person clasps a hen (remembering their wings are quite strong) so that the head is facing away from us, while the other holds the sack which is rolled down to the drawstring beforehand which helps to keep the neck open. The hen goes in head first, we don't let go until the bird is sitting comfortably at the bottom of the sack - two more follow. To try and simply drop them into the sack just does not work, they will get their feet caught up in the sacking and nap their wings about. If this happens, it's taken out and the procedure repeated properly. We are very careful not to injure the hen. The three hens safely in, the drawstring in the middle of the sack is drawn closed and the resulting loop goes over the shoulder. We take as many hens etc. as we have go od homes for.

     With experience it's possible to work in total darkness which usually reduces the amount of noise the hens make. When working in a broiler unit with full grown birds we move more slowly, otherwise 10-15,000 hens may start off. We don't panic if they do though, it may sound loud in the unit but outside it's surprising how much the wooden units deaden the noise.

     With rabbits we select single mothers with well-developed young. Large rabbits on their own often indicates a pregnant female, and for obvious reasons rabbits with small young are not disturbed. Rabbits go into the sack back end first because of their large rear feet. Sacks are ideal carriers because the material is comfortable and keeps the animals warm, and with plenty of fresh air. Following the raid we ensure the door is closed so that the cold night air doesn't result in a sharp drop in temperature and discomfort for the animals left behind.

     For buildings that are alarmed we try to gain direct access into the room holding the animals by going through a wall. Using a well oiled brace and mortar drill long enough to drill out the mortar from around one or two bricks, we then lever them out with a large screwdriver or small crowbar. We then simply cut bricks along the mortar with a padsaw (keyhole saw) and literally cut bricks out. Squirting water from a squeeze bottle onto the padsaw reduces the noise of cutting the mortar (3-4 squeeze bottles are usually required).

     To go through a door that may be alarmed we use our brace to drill a series of overlapping holes using a 1" auger bit until a square can be removed big enough for us to get in and out of with our boxes etc. We have also been able to remove a window from an animal house by taking out the putty using one of those screwdriver sets that has a pointed implement. On another occasion we gained access to an animal house during the day when the alarms were switched off. During the lunch break we gained access using a skeleton key. We had already established on a previous visit at night that it worked, by unlocking the door, but not opening it, then relocking it.

     Old type alarms can be dealt with by removing the bell with a screwdriver or forcing it to one side with a crowbar so that the hammer can be cut off or bent so that it cannot possibly strike the bell. Another method with the klaxan-horn type is to spray cavity wall insulation fluid (the type that sets in 15 minutes) into the horn and through the vents into the alarm box.

    Once enough time has elapsed for the animals to be got away it's time to deal with the labs and offices. As these premises may also have alarms we crawl along the floor. The aim is to quickly smash up enough equipment to put it out of action or plant incendiary materials to burn it down once satisfied there are no people or animals in there and, if possible, to obtain any documents relating to the experiments, who supplied the animals, names and home addresses of the vivisectors/animal technicians etc.

     With the big commercial labs, there is always the chance of a silent alarm connected to the local police station. By going through a wall into a room with animals we usually find this is no problem, but later when entering the actual labs, to destroy it or rescue animals undergoing experiments we prefer to go for a smash and grab effort. Sledgehammers then come into their own. A 14'lb hammer is aimed at the mortise lock repeatedly. We save vital time by going through the outside wall first or smashing in through a window and then dealing with the internal doors with the sledgehammer. In a confined space a 10'lb hammer with the handle cut down to about 20" is the answer. Crowbars are also of use.

     In planning this type of action we have to be totally practical. Those fit enough to run some distance after the raid carrying dogs, etc. and rucksacks full of documents will be responsible for taking the animals, papers, for destroying equipment and if possible, the lab itself. For the most part, raiding labs is straightforward, only a handful of the very big labs have more elaborate security equipment. (note: unfortunately all University labs these days have security systems, look around and with a little luck and lots of hard work you will find one that can be done.)

     We never paint the letters A.L.F. on a unit or lab, at most we will spray `Animal Liberation' or `Animal Belsen'. We paint slogans in dark colours and where they are visible to any reporters following up the story - this helps confirm the action has taken place when the owner or manager denies it (note: things have been very different over here in North America). Where the noise of a spray can may alert a guard dog a large felt tip pen is sufficient.

     If everything goes well, we do, of course, mention it was an A.L.F. group to the media so that everyone concerned is aware who was responsible.

     If we have to carry potentially noisy animals, e.g. dogs, a long distance over fields, etc. particularly after a smash and grab, we carry some anti-mate (as used by hunt sabs to put hounds off the scent of foxes). We give a good squirt after crossing a stream, road, etc. for obvious reasons.

     When returning to the vehicles on no account do we walk along roads at night. If something went wrong we would, at most, walk in the fields parallel with roads to help direct us to the meeting up place.

     Much of what I've said may appear to be processes that would take some getting used to but we found after a while that they became second nature. We've never been discovered carrying out a raid and the four of us had no previous experience. It is simply down to common sense.

     Further reading; An Animal Liberation Primer, Interviews With California A.L.F. Activists, Into the 1990's with the A.L.F., Without A Trace, Interviews with A.L.F. Activists.