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Huntingdon Life Sciences fail to seize protestor's assets

Free Beagle | 28.02.2007 00:47 | Animal Liberation | Repression | London

Huntingdon Life Sciences last week failed once again to seize the assets of a high profile activist recently imprisoned for serious criminal activity and were instead made liable for his costs in defending the proceedings. In this article we ask why the national media totally ignored this story, choosing to focus instead on a non-story about animal rights stalls in London.

Media headlines on Wednesday last week were dominated by the story that the police in London are cracking down on illegal animal rights stalls and street collections. The usual journalists from the Times and Guardian dutifully publicised the police propaganda that the stalls were being used to finance criminal activity and that they were worth approximately £80,000 per year to the activists. The intended message was that the police had taken effective steps to cut off a substantial source of income to animal rights protestors.

The more discerning reader may have noticed that the story did not actually constitute news. There had been no recent arrests or searches and no-one had recently been before the court. So why then was the story being released at this particular time? The answer is that it was almost certainly designed to coincide with the expected news that the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences had successfully seized the house of a prominent activist Donald Currie, making his wife and three children homeless in the process. The story goes like this.

In March 2006, Currie was arrested on suspicion of arson and possessing explosives. He was subsequently remanded in custody. The offences were alleged to have been carried out in relation to suppliers of Huntingdon Life Sciences. Shortly after his arrest, Huntingdon Life Sciences’ lawyers Lawson-Cruttenden and Co applied for and obtained an interim charging Order on his house. This was because he had been named as a defendant in the proceedings between Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) in April 2003. Currie did not file an individual defence and in April 2004 HLS applied for and obtained a default judgment against him and a number of other defendants who had also not filed a defence. Each of the “defaulting” defendants was ordered to pay costs of approximately £200,000. The principle of “joint and several liability” meant that HLS could go after any of the individual defaulting defendants for the entire sum.

After April 2004 interest accrued on the costs at a rate of £50 per day and by March 2006 the costs Order was worth £220k. HLS realised that with Currie in a maximum security prison and facing serious charges this might be a good time to try and enforce the costs order against him and to make an example of him. One way of enforcing a costs order is to obtain a “charging order” on the debtor’s house for the amount of money owed. Once a charge has been obtained, an application can be made to force sale of the property. This is what they intended to do with Currie’s house.

In August last year HLS duly obtained a final charging Order on Currie’s house meaning that they would be able to apply to force sale. However Currie had managed to instruct lawyers by this stage, who had placed evidence before the court that HLS had brought the case against Currie improperly. They never actually served him at his home address, choosing instead to serve him at SHAC’s Boat Lane address. His defence was that he never actually knew that he was a named defendant and that the claimants had taken no steps to serve him at his home address. Furthermore the claimants knew his ordinary residential address prior to bringing proceedings and they should have served him there.

HLS did get a final charging order at the August hearing but were told that they could not enforce it until November. They were also ordered to provide a statement specifying when they first became aware of Currie’s address. One of the claimants’ solicitors named Rizwan Majid duly filed a statement saying that they first became aware of his address in April 2006. Mr. Majid also stated that the Claimants were not aware of Currie’s significance as an activist until his arrest in March 2006.

Here’s where it gets interesting. After receiving Majid’s statement Currie’s lawyers obtained evidence, proving not only that Majid’s statement was inaccurate but that Majid was fully aware of this. His statement appeared to be a deliberate attempt to mislead the court. The evidence obtained by the Defendants was as follows;

• HLS had been subscribing to a media service since the inception of the SHAC campaign. This included press reports detailing Currie’s address which had been in their possession some 18 months prior to bringing proceedings.
• Before HLS brought proceedings against Currie, the police had disclosed to them a huge volume of SHAC material which had been seized during the course of criminal proceedings against other individuals in 2000. This included an address book containing Currie’s name and address.

• In April 2004 before HLS obtained the costs Order against Currie, they were in possession of a certificate of conviction, which contained his full name and address. Despite this fact they took no steps to inform him about the application for judgment in default.
• In February 2003 HLS’s solicitor Tim Lawson-Cruttenden wrote to the Cambridgeshire police asking for the names and addresses of all SHAC supporters and all persons convicted of offences at HLS’s premises. The police had obviously corresponded at length with HLS after that letter was written, but their reply to Lawson-Cruttenden’s letter had never been disclosed.
• In April 2005 Majid himself filed a witness statement identifying Currie as one of the main SHAC activists. This was totally at odds with his later statement that Currie was not regarded as significant until March 2006.

In January this year Currie applied for an Order that the default judgment and costs order against him be set aside, on the grounds that HLS had not complied with the civil procedure rules on service. HLS clearly already knew his address prior to bringing proceedings against him, and they should have attempted service at that address first before serving him at the SHAC address. Currie also applied for disclosure of all communications between HLS and the police prior to commencing proceedings against him. Clearly there had been a lot of correspondence between HLS and the police and this might contain yet more evidence that they had known about his address all along. At the same time as Currie made his application, HLS applied for an Order of Sale of his house.

Currie’s application was listed on 7th February this year just two days before HLS’s application to force sale of his house. HLS’s case quickly collapsed at the hearing with their lawyer Lawson-Cruttenden forced to concede to the judge that they already had Currie’s address before they brought the claim against him. As a result of this concession the judge indicated that the costs order against Currie would probably be set aside. The hearing to decide on whether Currie’s house should be sold was vacated. Two weeks later, on Tuesday 20th February, the judge handed down his judgment. He ordered that the default judgment and costs order against Currie be set aside, meaning that he was no longer a Defendant to the proceedings and that HLS would not be able to force a sale of his property. The judge also ordered HLS to pay Currie’s costs for his applications to set aside and for disclosure.

This was a monumental defeat for HLS, who had been desperately hoping to make a high profile example of Currie in the media. Had they been successful, the forced sale of his house would have made big news in the national media and would have been covered in particular by journalists such as Nicola Woolcock of The Times and Sandra Laville of the Guardian who have been following this story with interest. Their silence on HLS’ failure whilst at the same time covering the non-story about seizure of animal rights stalls is a scandal, and marks them out as none other than propagandists for the pro animal research lobby.

The police in London released their story about seizure of animal rights stalls the day after judgment was handed down in Don’s case. The only obvious explanation for the timing is that they had originally designed to release their story about stalls at the same time as the news that HLS forced the sale of a prominent activists’ house. This is now the third time that HLS have tried and failed to seize houses belonging to SHAC activists and for the third time the story has received zero coverage in the national media. A key function of propaganda is the deliberate omission of information which does not support the propagandist’s point of view. This was demonstrated no more clearly than by the deliberate omission in the national media last week of HLS’ failed attempt once again to seize their opponents’ assets.

Free Beagle