> AR Interviews
The Flames of Victory:
An Interview with Convicted A.L.F. Activist Melanie
Compromise Issue 5.
No Compromise: Hi ya Mel! Many of our readers are not
familiar with the UK Animal Liberation movement and the highly
successful campaigns of the A.L.F. so I thought it would be
interesting to introduce you to them. Currently, you're
serving a three and a half year sentence for arson related
charges due to your participation in A.L.F. raids. What can
you tell us about your case?
Melanie Arnold: Well, the BSE crisis had hit Britain like a
ten-ton sledge hammer. It hadn't quite filtered through to the
public to the level it would subsequently reach, and the
media, as usual, were keeping tight-lipped for the present,
only releasing snippets of information in order to break the
public in lightly. But we knew about it and what lay in store.
The meat industry was to be hit right where it hurt (i.e. --
the pocket) by its own gratuitous greed karma; and in
anticipation of many smaller meat depots going bust, we
decided to help one of the larger slaughterhouses, that may
have otherwise only tottered on the brink of downfall, to go
well and truly over the edge.
Ensors abattoir sat in Gloucestershire, a safe targeting
distance from houses or the neighboring wildlife habitat. We
recced it several times to monitor the late workers, patrol
men, dog walkers, etc. just to establish a typical night's
activity around the area we intended to torch. Having
satisfied ourselves that this was a 'safe' venture, we went on
to gain entry to the building to ascertain what we would need
before dissolving into the night -- leaving no trace of our
Two weeks later we had bought, made and improvised all that
we would need, and on the 10th June 1995, we made our way
back, just the two of us. We entered the compound, broke the
side windows of every van, refrigerated lorry and car and then
withdrew to see if attention had been generated by the noise.
It had not. We collected our cache of incendiary devices and
placed this cocktail of potassium nitrate and sucrose with
modified fuse, through each window and onto the upholstery of
We then got into the abattoir building and began trashing
the upstairs kitchen, dining area and locker rooms and we
decided to cover the whole place in petrol, leading a fuse of
inflammable material down the stairs and into the main
slaughter hall. Again, we doused machinery in the surrounding
area with copious amounts of petrol and set 20 incendiary
devices by the main apparatus, including accompanying bags of
the explosive mixture (and boy does it explode!). We then
triggered off some fires manually and lit the devices to add
to the inferno later. We lit the lorry devices last as these
obviously are more noticeable and may bring attention when the
building, burning away from the windowless interior, had only
just got going.
We then disappeared into the night, even as the first of
the lorries exploded behind us. Technically, we got clear away
with it. None of us were known to that area and our planning
was such that it was highly unlikely that we would be caught
on the job. The police and bomb squad didn't have a clue who
was responsible and went on fishing trips to local
Unfortunately, my assisting activist also turned up at one
of them to help build fences and the police searched and
nabbed everyone. The police -- not knowing of Michael as an
animal libber -- would never have searched his cottage had not
his unfortunate decision to work that morning transpired.
Michael confessed his guilt primarily to defend the two other
suspects who were entirely innocent of the attacks and had
many animals in their charge, one of whom was actually 'put
down' by police. But the growing circumstantial evidence had
precipitated this decision anyway.
From neighboring sources my description was given, and the
police knew of me well enough to identify the description and
to arrest me 3 days later at my home in Northampton. I was
interrogated on and off for several days and nights during
which the police used every tactic in the book to encourage me
to speak. They lied, they threatened, they cajoled, they
pleaded, they flirted and they failed. The police tried to
convince me that Michael had incriminated me in the making of
the devices, and my response at this predictability, led to
one inspector shouting "it's no good you laughing, Melanie."
Lies, all of it.
As far as I was concerned, either they had enough evidence,
in which case they could charge me; or they didn't, in which
case I wasn't going to help them find it. They charged us
anyway under Section 2 of the Explosives Act and sent us to
prison to await trial.
Six months later, I was arrested and charged yet again by
Cheshire Constabulary for the firebomb attack against 36 large
milk tankers which had caused 2 million pounds worth of damage
and had occurred two weeks before the Ensors incident. Again,
I remained silent and again I listened to the same old
The only thing I gave was my blood, quite literally -- a
donation because I didn't fancy being held down and forcibly
syringed. Fifteen months later, we were forcibly brought to
trial and both of us pled guilty and arranged for mitigation.
Being caught is bad enough, but we have two obligations to
fill when that happens. One is to ensure we say nothing to our
interrogators and two is to ensure we get back out to the
struggle as soon as possible. In any event, having expected a
minimum of 6 years each - Michael received 5 and I was left
with only three and one half years.
NC: So what led you to the crossroads where you began to
question the effectiveness of legal reform and began to
participate in illegal activities?
MA: I began to 'politically' campaign on behalf of animals
from the age of 13 and, during the following years, I wrote
endless letters, attended endless meetings and demos, and then
questioned endlessly the validity of my endeavors -- what
exactly was I achieving? Did I hear of results? Could I see
it? Was it tangible enough to feel, to hold? Was I being
listened to at all?
After months of alternating nightmares and insomnia, of
emotional turmoil and debate, I finally decided that I either
was going to help animals, which meant doing it in a way that
worked, and doing it for life or I should put the torment out
of my mind and get on with my own. I chose the animals for
life. From that turning point came the necessity to embrace
non-violent direct action. It was blatantly clear to me that
the government didn't have any intention of giving away what
it couldn't afford to lose and that by bargaining for extra
inches, less pain, and one form of suffering for another, we
were accepting compromise, accepting disempowerment, accepting
If the parliamentary system worked, if the law makers took
notice of majority opinion, there would be equal pay for
women, the health service would be adequately funded, hunting
would be banned, fur would be outlawed, live exports
abolished, vivisection banished to the annals of history....
It's simply not going to happen. Why? Because the exploitation
of animals is big business and the food, pharmaceutical and
petro-chemical industries upon which the national purse
relies, are the foundations -- physically, emotionally, and
economically -- of the wider societal abuses we all suffer.
In high profile campaigns, the A.L.F. were seen to be
stepping directly in-between the torture and the tortured;
they were going for the economic jugular, causing abusers more
trouble than it was worth, perhaps subjecting them to the same
fear they so enjoy causing themselves and more importantly --
The results were valid, they were tangible, and when I
first held the whimpering form of a damaged but rescued being,
felt her heart beat against mine as I ran with her to freedom,
I knew that I could do more in my lifetime as an A.L.F.
activist on my own than a thousand people could do by the
accepted legal channels, and then some.
NC: Here in the States, I remember hearing about live
animal liberations and daylight raids in England in the early
and mid 80's, all of which were incredibly inspiring. By the
late 80's the A.L.F. served to focus more on maximum economic
damage and arson actions. Could you tell us a little about the
choice of tactics the UK A.L.F. use and why they choose them?
MA: The Animal Liberation League raids of the early 80's
were certainly effective in their time and did much to
generate the type of sympathy and interest that led to an
increase in recruitment. These mass daylight raids involving
hoards of activists were much publicized and media depictions
of balaclaved warriors storming research facilities and
bringing out animals and files led to great feelings of
But tactics must be fluid and interchangeable and those
that will work against one form of abuse or one company may
not be entirely suited to another. And, as the anti-fur
campaigns grew in momentum alongside other important issues,
it gradually took over as the #1 winnable target -- much as
live exports is today -- and the A.L.F., grassroots
organizations and local groups engaged in a concerted effort
against this disgusting 'trade.'
Arson has always been a valuable asset; it makes animal
abuse unprofitable, it is the ultimate pressure point. Fire
removes the apparatus -- buildings and vehicles of our hatred
-- it means they cannot be used and insurance premiums
skyrocket, again adding to the overall financial burden.
These tactics worked exceptionally well against department
stores whose shop line was not exclusively furs; as the
warning was enough to have them remove any offending item, yet
still be able to carry on a trade. [The same tactic could
potentially be used against Universities who only perform a
tiny percentage of the overall research (vivisection) going
on. We must isolate them and divide them within their own
In other words, the potential and actual use of arson was a
deterrent for them and the economic disadvantages of such an
attack far outweigh the profit they were making by selling
fur. Thus, it was an effective tactic and one that was
unlikely to have been equaled by any other. The risk of
capture was low, it was cheap, effective and an increasingly
autonomous way of doing actions without the necessity of
knowing or involving others. To put it bluntly -- anyone
could, and did, do it!
NC: When I was in the UK, I noticed that many direct action
activists were often involved in many "different" political
and ecological struggles. Some were hunt sabs and
anti-fascists and others were vegan and also very active in
community projects, working class alliances and women's
issues. Are you someone who sees a similarity between these
struggles, and if so, why?
MA: Yes, I am someone who readily identifies with a
diversity of struggles and over the years I have moved from
one to another myself. But many people involved in other
issues, especially ones relating to humans, are often scornful
of our work with animals, failing completely to see the
connection between animal and human abuse, the direct relation
between animal testing and the rapidly growing diseases in
humans and the reliance upon the exploitation of animals for
everything from food, clothing, sport, entertainment,
amusement and so called "health."
If we accept the wholesale carnage of defenseless creatures
as "the norm", then we have grown to accept that a superior
attitude, providing that it in some way benefits us physically
or psychologically, is perfectly OK; and that attitude lives
towards people of "minority" races, people with disabilities,
and women to name but a few. There is correlation. Society, as
we know it, has been deliberately cut, molded and set into the
hierarchical pyramid structure of which we, along with all
ordinary people, occupy the lowest strata. And we have been
brought up to accept that certain institutions exist, such as
government, the police, vivisection, etc. and that without
these institutions, "civilization" would disintegrate.
Let us assume that you had been reared from birth and told
that without the aid of crutches you could not walk. In spite
of having two perfectly fit legs, at that age, you would know
no different. And you would grow up to believe in your
disability and the fear of falling should your crutches be
removed. This is what governments rely on -- the belief in its
"subjects" that they cannot act independently of and in spite
In the same way we have all been programmed with certain
information, reinforced by the ignorance of parents, of
schools, of media and by a lifetime of physical and moral
habits. The most dangerous of these is acceptance. People
accept meat as a necessary part of their diet because they've
always eaten it and they're still here (I'll leave my CJD
comments for another time). They accept ready-made
professions, dead-end jobs, low wages, long hours, and
powerlessness because a growing unemployment level enhances
their gratitude and their servitude. And, in their frantic
attempts at rung climbing in society's hierarchy, they're also
willing to accept the belief and perpetuate the belief that
they are somehow "better" than their female, black, gay
The scramble to be on top of the pile encourages and
reinforces base rationalistic and prejudicial concepts and
creates divisions between the very people for whom the
authorities show so much contempt. This can be witnessed by a
failing health and education system, failed housing, failed
control within the workplace, failing unemployment, and a
general despondency, inadequacy and poverty -- all the
hallmarks of a great crime incentive.
Animals inevitably fare even worse, and in a joint venture
aimed at making money and saving money, animals are used and
discarded in such great numbers and on such great levels and
on such great pretenses, that not only is it considered
"normal", but it is accepted without question.
What we have then, is a system of rules, a set of beliefs
and an accepted way of thinking/behaving which encourages and
perpetuates disunion between sexes, races and species, and
which exists, and only exists, because we accept they do.
We need to alter people's whole perception of the world
around them, to encourage free thought, free speech, self
determination, equality and autonomy of action. We need to
link up with other grassroots organizations to share
solidarity and support, ideas and tactics, and to dissolve the
man-made boundaries between us. Working class, animal
liberation, anarchist, feminist, environmental, indigenous,
etc. struggles are one and the same because the enemy is
common to us all, and only our undivided unity will be strong
enough to defeat it.
The more humans take control of and act responsibly for
their lives, the more the balance of the human psyche will be
restored, their spirituality repaired and nature and her
kingdoms will be respected as a different, but equal, partner
in the vast fabric of life on Earth.
NC: So would you say that, here in America, we should
strive to build solidarity with other struggles against
oppression be it animal, earth or human?
MA: The ecological and spiritual balance of the planet and
her inhabitants depends on it. Certainly, the link between
animals and the environment is indistinguishable, as the one
cannot exist without the other. Nature and evolution perfected
the ecosystems that best supported life on Earth and man's
interference and theft has sabotaged millions of years of fine
tuning that not only destroys the habitat of animals, but of
indigenous tribes the world over, depleting oxygen supplies
and potent cures from deep, lush forests.
Any spanner in the works of nature herself, will and has,
backfired in immeasurable ways on human kind. If charity
begins at home, then maybe we should start looking at our home
-- not the brick edifice within which we barricade ourselves
-- but the planet upon which we truly live.
NC: Here in America the federal government has really
created an atmosphere of repression against any who fight
their power outside of the legal system. In the UK you have
the Animal Rights National Index (ARNI) of Scotland Yard and
M15 who have long compared the A.L.F. to groups like the IRA.
What words do you have for activists who might be afraid to
participate in A.L.F. actions due to their being labeled
domestic terrorists? And do activists in the UK live in fear
of what their beliefs could cost them?
MA: The level of intervention in our activities by the
police and M15 is only indicative of the amount of genuine
threat we represent. This then, would seem to suggest that we
have been successful in ways only partly recognized by us.
Our inevitable response to their overt and covert
monitoring of us is just to go deeper underground, surrounded
in secrecy, and to operate likewise. The increase in
Environmental activism had led to a dilution of police
activity geared 100% against "us", which allows us greater
freedom to act, but by and large, those activists prepared to
break the law for the higher moral one, are still breaking the
law in spite of the threat of lengthy prison sentences and the
increase in informers whose job is to lead us there. We
realize that one cannot possibly see any punishment meted out
to an activist as being comparable to that which inflicts the
animals we represent.
No struggle has ever been won without personal sacrifice
and I can say, on my own behalf, that I will take the prison
option time and time again than ever live with the guilt and
cowardice and selfishness of inaction.
UK activists just take more precautions these days. Few
attend demos, meetings and CD's. No one will speak of anything
sensitive in a car, house or over a phone and they generally
keep themselves out of the limelight and stick with their own
trusted comrades. New activists especially, can get away with
so much, simply by the virtue of the fact that they will be
unknown to police so surveillance is unlikely and conspiracy
via others the same.
Very rarely do activists get caught "on the job" and those
that have were under surveillance anyway. There is nothing to
fear. Don't ever underestimate your faith or the power you
have inside you to conquer your uncertainty and enter the
empowering world of Earth activism.
NC: Here in the States, I'm the first A.L.F. member to do
prison time, do you find the capture of A.L.F. activists leads
to less A.L.F. actions or more? Why?
MA: There's no evidence to suggest that A.L.F. actions are
on the decrease and there are now 14 warriors in the UK
imprisoned to date. I think the general attitude amongst our
free sisters and brothers is that the more activists inside,
the more they will act on our behalf and that means
encouraging others to act also.
The level of support shown for activists Keith Mann and
Dave Callendar with their 11 and 10 years respectively, seen
at the Courts of appeal and on Justice demos etc.,
demonstrates just how much people care; and outrage over the
ridiculously high sentencing of prisoners has led to people
getting more involved in our struggle.
A.L.F. is all-encompassing and never-ceasing. The fact that
a 16 year old school child may decide to smash Cancer Research
Shop windows one night and a 65 year old gentleman may decide
to take a few of his neighboring battery hens and so on and so
forth, all under the banner of A.L.F. and without it
necessarily breaking headlines, means that the essential work
goes on. We may not always hear about it, but it is going on
and the police are fully and painfully conscious of that fact.
NC: Is it true that most fur shops and now many butcher
shops have steel shutters over their windows because of
repeated attacks by animal liberationists?
MA: Yes, it is true that a vast amount of butcher shops and
all remaining fur shops have steel shutters across the windows
after repeated window smashing attacks nationwide; especially
from ball bearings shot from a catapult (wrist rocket/sling
shot) in a slow passing vehicle. As well as the added expense
this entails, it has been known for activists to use power
tools and even ram-raiding vehicles with which to damage these
No security measure by them is invincible; with initiative
we can counter their paltry attempts to hide from us and,
quite literally, make them pay!
NC: Can you tell us about one of the most satisfying
actions you ever participated in and how it helped you
strengthen your faith in direct action?
MA: Not so much an action as a campaign. And that was
against live exports at Coventry airport, which we got stopped
after only a few months of intensive campaigning.
What was so good about this issue was the combination of
people from all walks of life determined to put the plight of
the calves above all else. What really brought us all together
in action was physically seeing the long line of animal
transporters slowly parading past us with calves, little baby
calves staring sorrowfully through the slats at us. I swear
they could pick me out in a crowd to focus and stare at me,
almost accusingly. It was heart-wrenching.
But we fought and we gave it our all. Jill Phipps even gave
her life on a concrete curb outside the gates, a lorry full of
heaving calves above her. We fought back; by day we held the
vigil, gave radio interviews, spoke to passing motorists to
join us who'd stop to give us food and warm clothing; we
turned people vegan; we smashed the trucks; we stopped them.
By night, we crept onto the airport and sabotaged its
property, its security fencing, its landing lights, set fires
along the strip and essentially cost them a hell of a lot of
money. We all got arrested and charged at some point and
banned for one mile around the airport, but we just returned
at night and, on one occasion, I physically battled with two
patrol men who had caught me scaling the fences, a wake of
destruction beside me.
We turned one firm's security against the other, both
operational at the airport and we got information on what was
happening behind the scenes. People stormed the police cordon
to chain themselves to the aircraft's wheels and plans were
under way to do much more sabotage. This infuriated the police
beyond belief and they had an informer in our protest camp
outside who got me arrested when I exposed him.
That time, the police dragged me off and put me alone in a
van and drove it to where I could see the calves being loaded
onto the plane -- electric stunners were used; they were
kicked and they all were picked up and thrown inside. The
police vowed to break both my legs once they got me to the
cells. It was working!
Combined with the exorbitant rate the security and police
pressure cost the airport, we were also personally targeting
the director of Phoenix Aviation, responsible for the flights.
He employed bodyguards to surround his house at night and he
installed trip wires and fireworks in his gardens; he even
shot one of us. It didn't stop his windows from being smashed,
his jeep from being smashed and the psychological torment of
not knowing what was going to happen next.
We unearthed his affair, his dealings with gun runners, his
criminal past, his criminal present. His bodyguards would
creep to our tents at night and leave freshly slaughtered
calves dripping over our banners and we would run riot in his
village causing all mayhem to break loose. He became a damaged
man, financially ruined, a nervous wreck and with his marriage
in pieces, even as I write, he is up for various charges of
Live exports at Coventry Airports ceased. The last
remaining protesters stood huddled in the rain around the
flowers, placed where Jill had been felled. There were to be
no more trucks. And as they turned to leave, there in the
middle of the road, quietly contemplating them, stood a
beautiful female fox. Out of absolutely nowhere, she had
appeared and she shimmered in the fading dusk. She studied
them all carefully and made her way away from the airport and
past the huddled mourners into the surrounding fields. Jill,
an active hunt saboteur, undoubtedly joined her. The battle
had been won.
NC: What is the level of importance of media attention for
the UK animal lib movement and is it something that influences
activism in Britain?
MA: Over the years, the continuous arresting and
imprisoning of the UK Press Officers and spokespersons led
many an activist cell to simply not make a publicity issue out
of their actions. This, and the combination of the
government's own "D" notice (media suppression) allotted to
many of our activities simply meant that operations went ahead
with little or no resultant publicity.
The important thing was that the abusers knew we had been
busy and why, and the abusers grapevine was red hot with
gossip, whether the public knew or not was of little
consequence, and news always filtered through to the animal
lib/environmental press anyway and this generated our own
publicity. On the whole, the national media have always been
poorly representative of and biased against us and as such,
show us in a negative and uninspiring manner.
NC: Mel, in what ways can activists in America learn from
their British counterparts and what can we do to encourage
greater recruitment and support of direct action?
One of the things worth mentioning is the importance of
solidarity and support of each other. A strong prisoner
support network is indispensable to the morale of a direct
action movement and by its very existence encourages and
publicizes this action.
The very least a potential/actual activist deserves to know
is that in the event of his/her capture they will be entitled
to moral and financial support. People will be very reluctant
to act when they know all they'll get is a kick in the teeth
for their courage.
In my opinion, action begets action. The more successful a
cell is, the more confident it will become and the more it
will act. We need to keep the momentum going -- as things
really do seem to be surging forward in North America -- by
distributing papers like No Compromise which keeps opinions of
the A.L.F. alive and shows just how much is going on and how
everyone has a part to play in that.
NC: Mel, you've seen a lot of your friends imprisoned for
direct action, some beaten and others who have lost their
lives in defense of the defenseless. What keeps you going?
What gives you the spirit to fight on in the face of
ever-continuing violence and torture of our animal relations?
MA: I owe it to the millions of animals and millions of
people who have died as a result of the systematic abuse of
sentient beings. I owe it to the millions of animals and
people who will go on to die as a result of that abuse, and I
owe it to absent friends.
When I got involved in the struggle, I vowed it would be a
fight to the end and I meant it. When I got imprisoned I
renewed that pledge, having felt, at first hand, just what it
feels like to be taken from loved ones, isolated from
everything I care for and treated as inferior and worthless.
At one prison, I spent 8 months in a 6 foot by 6 foot cell
-- a claustrophobic's nightmare -- and it hit me like a steam
train how all these animals in cages must feel, whether
waiting to be experimented on or waiting to be bought or
waiting to die, with absolutely no knowledge of a release
date, such as us prisoners have benefit of. The psychological
prospect of a life behind bars, let alone any physical
suffering they may entail too, was, in a very tiny way,
imparted to me through my own experiences and this has
strengthened my resolve to fight on like never before.
Not only have I glimpsed the torment of their world, but I
have overcome one of the sturdiest of human barriers -- that
of fear. It is the fear of what may happen to us that prevents
us from doing what is right. I had that fear, like anyone
else. Fear of the unknown is very potent, but I had to listen
to my conscience - I had seen too much to ever go back. I've
come through the worse that they can throw at me and I can
honestly say "was that it?" Without even knowing it, the
powers that be have erased my last remaining tie with their
world and I am now truly free and in my power.
NC: Is there anything else that you would like to share
with NC readers about the future, hope, winning and all that?
MA: "Winning" is a state of mind. Every time we rescue an
animal and maintain a life -- that is winning. Real victory
happens at every action for us.
If all we think about is how ghastly the overall problem is
and how overwhelming it all seems and how pointless our own
endeavors always appear in the face of such evil, then we will
have undoubtedly failed on every level.
We are born as individuals and we die as individuals, and
somewhere in-between we get a little lost, a little insecure,
a little dependent and start blindly following a crowd or an
ideal, using the same old worn out tactics because everyone
else is, and content in the knowledge that "others" are taking
care of the "hard stuff". We lose sight of our own unique
ability to think, feel and act; to take initiative, to
instigate campaigns and of seeing our views through. It
doesn't take great crowds of people and it doesn't take any
secret know-how. It shouldn't be left to just a few of us to
take all the risks, although we will.
We don't exist in a vacuum and neither do you. Let's unite
and feel in ourselves the power that stirs from within; let's
harness that energy then send burning arrows in the directions
of our targets; arrows that illuminate the way for others. For
every time we act with purity and compassion, every time we
extend a healing hand to life around us, we win in ways too
subtle to be noticed, but too important to be ignored. Let's
kick away our crutches and fly!
NC: Mel, on behalf of No Compromise, I'd like to thank you
not only for this interview but for your selfless sacrifice
for the animal people. I'm sure we'll be seeing you back in
the trenches soon.