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25th June 2019

Dealing with protests against livestock farmers

With harassment of dairy and livestock farmers on the up, Agricultural Dispute Resolution solicitor Ken Karr looks at putting plans in place to protect your farming business and its staff. Evidence, and especially recordings, is key.

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 are committing an offence if they refuse.

Remember also that “burglary” is defined as illegal entry of a building with intent to commit certain crimes, including theft and damage to property.

In practice, 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 into any verbal exchange with trespassers, except to ask them to leave or 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 to claim trespassing was done to prevent or detect a crime is not a satisfactory defence. 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. For example, certain people tend to always wear the same shoes.

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.

 

To discuss any of the above with an expert, please get in touch with Ken Karr or a member of the Agriculture team.

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