17th Oct


Tips for Dealing with “Direct Action”

We are currently witnessing an unprecedented situation where every livestock and dairy farmer in the country is a potential target for the sort of harassment that was previously reserved for fur farms and laboratories using animals for research. Like every risk, it is good business to have a plan in place to deal with it if it happens.

In the event that protesters manage to enter your property it is worth knowing what the law says. Firstly, trespass on its own is not a criminal offence and even the most novice protester will be aware of the fact. However, a police officer may step in if the occupier has asked that the trespassers leave and they have  damaged the land, used threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour to the occupier, the occupier’s family or employees, or they have six or more vehicles on the land. If the police officer tells them to leave, they commit an offence if they refuse. Remember also that “burglary” is defined as illegal entry of a building with intent to commit a certain crime including theft and damage to property.

In practice, the protesters largely stay on the right side of the law but when they don’t you will want evidence. The police in this day and age are heavily reliant on video footage for prosecuting lesser crimes and if there is clear video evidence of something like criminal damage or assault, they will usually have no good reason not to prosecute. Body-worn cameras are the ideal solution and if you are particularly at risk you should seriously consider investing in a few, along with a good
set of radios and some dedicated hi-viz vests.

If you have employees, have a conversation with them about the issue as a precaution. Nominate the ones who are least likely to lose their temper to monitor trespassers in the event of an intrusion. They should not enter any verbal exchange with trespassers except to ask them to leave or to inform them that they have strayed off a public right of way. Everything should be filmed, and you must be prepared to hand over the entire film to the police if necessary.

Legal action is not something anyone wants to pursue but in certain situations you may have no other choice. The High Court recently granted an injunction to a landowner who had suffered repeated and violent trespass by protesters opposed to the Fitzwilliam Hunt. An injunction is a court order which prohibits certain named (or sometimes unnamed) individuals from doing certain acts such as trespass. An injunction can also be sought to prevent harassment.

In the Fitzwilliam Hunt case, the judge confirmed that it is no defence to trespass to say that it was only done to prevent or detect a crime. If someone suspects an animal welfare issue on a farm, they should report it to Trading Standards – they have no right to go and investigate.

The key to securing an injunction is evidence. A detailed log of every incident, ideally with references to specific parts of your video footage, is absolutely essential. Keep a spreadsheet from the very beginning to avoid painstaking analysis of evidence in future. Unfortunately, the law does not prohibit face-coverings
even in incidents of trespass, but it is still perfectly possible to identify repeat offenders in other ways such as their clothing.

Evidence is equally important to deal with allegations that might be made against you or your employees.

Finally, call the police if you fear for your safety or your property. Do not try to physically remove trespassers except in extreme circumstances. It simply isn’t worth the risk and at the end of the day it is precisely what these protesters want you to do. Take legal advice after any protest incident, and if you are invited by the police to interview do not even consider attending without fully instructing a specialist solicitor and taking their advice.

Written by Ken Kaar, a Litigation Solicitor with Thrings LLP.  This article was first published within the MayJune 2019 edition of TFA News.

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