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FANATIC OR HERO?
THE LIFE OF AN ANIMAL ACTIVIST
27 February 2006
The man once described as a terrorist, a ruthless fanatic and one of Britain's most notorious animal rights activists, is now a full-time
career living in Dorset. Chief Reporter RUTH WOOD spoke exclusively to Keith Mann
A FEARSOME reputation can be a double-edged sword, as Keith Mann will testify. On the one hand, he despises the media for making him out to be some kind of Osama bin Laden of the animal rights movement. On the other, he's glad of the reputation.
"They believe the hype and they're scared, " said the 39-year-old of Britain's pharmaceutical community. "Anyone would think we go around killing people, poisoning babies and digging up old ladies. But I have never hurt anyone. The reality is that nobody has ever died at the hands of an animal activist, whereas many animal activists have died or been hospitalised in pursuit of their campaigns.
It's laughable to call me a terrorist."
The police disagree, which is why Mann suspects his home in Poole, Dorset, is under regular surveillance. Among the problems is his insistence that fire-bombing and sabotage get results. Direct action, he claims, is the only way to stop experiments being carried out on three million animals a year in Britain, and to shut down farms where animals suffer.
He said: "The fact that people get excited about a broken window sometimes brings me to tears. It detracts from the real issue which is the obscene violence inflicted on sentient beings in this so-called country of animal lovers."
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, set up to investigate animal rights extremism, is appalled.
"Fire-bombing is a criminal act and it poses a risk to life." said a spokesman. "We are not saying domestic extremists are terrorists in the same way as international terrorists who commit mass murder. It is disappointing that he (Mann) is still talking about fire-bombing, having served a custodial sentence.
"Even if a laboratory or some other target appears to be deserted, there's no guarantee someone won't be hurt." In 1990 a 13-month-old baby was wounded by flying shrapnel when a bomb was placed under the car of a Bristol University animal scientist. Incredibly, he escaped unhurt.
Fire-bombing is not something that features on the criminal record of Mann, who became involved with the Animal Liberation Front after leaving school in Rochdale, Lancashire, at 16. Attempted arson, however, is. In 1994 he was sentenced to 14 years behind bars for sabotaging a fleet of cattle lorries at a slaughterhouse near Manchester and attempting to burn down 10 egg lorries at a battery farm in Kent.
MANN said: "We had incendiary devices - petrol, a sponge and a candle - but were ambushed before we could light them. I fled the scene after rumbling a surveillance team and escaped, but was arrested in the morning."
Mann spent the next 20 months on remand. He escaped, scaled a 10ft wall and went on the run. "I hid under a railway viaduct and sat there watching a fox, " he said.
"I could hear the helicopter overhead and I started giggling."
Mann was caught two years later and jailed, but was released early after six years. Last year, he did a further six months in jail, for trying to expose Wickham Laboratories in Hampshire.
Following a tip-off that the lab was testing Botox for cosmetic purposes, which is illegal, he organised a raid, freed 695 mice and got the "gold dust" paperwork. In court Wickham said the mice were being legally used for tests on botulinum toxin (used in Botox) for a product used in the UK for therapeutic purposes to prevent muscle spasms.
It was one prison sentence too many for Mann, who says he is no longer involved in "illegal direct action". "My partner, Paula, has had a brain haemorrhage and she's got ME, so I spend most of my time caring for her, " he said.
He also has his fostered greyhounds, Sandy and Teila, to look after, and says he makes ends meet making driftwood mirrors and birdboxes. The son of a caretaker and the second youngest of five siblings, he has avoided having children himself, because "it takes over your life".
Before his jail sentence last year Mann took photographs of battery farm chickens that he says fell out of their cages into waste pits below, and were left to die in the excrement.
He said a Government-commissioned independent inquiry proving animal experiments were necessary would quell the animal liberation movement.
The RDS, which represents scientists involved in animal research, said 90 per cent of medical research in Britain was done without using animals.
Spokeswoman Barbara Davies said animal research was to thank for vaccines, antibiotics, anaesthetics, insulin for diabetes, open-heart surgery, kidney dialysis and transplants, and treatments for asthma, leukaemia and high blood pressure.
She said: "We can use computer modelling and do a certain amount of testing on humans. Often you are looking at the effect of something on the body and then killing the animal to see what has happened inside the body. You can't do that with human patients."
Ms Davies said duplication of experiments was a myth and denied animals were tortured. She described people who worked in such labs as "animal lovers."