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Two months ago I blogged about the case of Setha Sann, an undercover officer from Victoria’s Security Intelligence Group in Australia who posed as a vegan named Andrew and joined Animal Liberation Victoria.


Well, the media in New Zealand are reporting a similar case today. The story involves Rob Gilchrist, who was gilchristwell known for a decade as an animal-rights campaigner. Turns out he was also a spy, informing the police about the activities of such groups as Auckland Animal Action, Save Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) and Wellington Animal Rights Network. It was actually his girlfriend, animal activist Rochelle Rees, who discovered Gilchrist was working for the police. 


A few weeks ago, Gilchrist asked Rochelle, who works as a computer programmer, to help him fix his computer. When she reinstalled his email program and then made a routine check that his old emails hadn’t been corrupted, Rochelle discovered hundreds of emails with the “sender” and “subject” lines blank. Checking them, she found they were all private political emails and all being forwarded to the same anonymous address. Eventually, Rochelle traced the emails to the highly secret Special Investigations Group. (These special police detectives are funded each year under a police budget category in New Zealand called “increase national security.”)


At protests, Gilchrist was often the one taunting police, says Mark Eden of Wellington Animal Rights Network, who regarded Gilchrist as a friend. “If it didn’t involve adrenalin and confrontation, he wasn’t interested,” he says. (I guess police informants aren’t too concerned about getting arrested.)


“He was always interested in who was keen on illegal actions and would often make it known that he was keen to be involved in anything illegal or undercover,” Mark says. “On a few occasions he would take people out for a drive and sit outside a factory farm or an animal laboratory and encourage them to talk about planning a break-in or other illegal activity. He would be really pushy and persistent about planning illegal activities and then would suddenly lose interest, claiming it was too difficult or that he was busy. He was always keen on planning dodgy stuff, but on the occasions when we did break the law, he would always have an excuse and pull out at the last minute.”


In hindsight, Mark believes Gilchrist was inciting people to talk about illegal activities and then “reporting it to police to make us sound dodgy.”


“We have gone in and filmed the farms and discovered the cruelty. But instead of doing the democratic thing and stopping it, which is what the public want, they have responded by sending in the secret police. That’s the most shocking thing about it.”


Gilchrist now says he was embarrassed and sorry for what he did, admitting the people he spied on were not security threats. “I know they are good people trying to make a better world,” he says.

A court in New Zealand has found Mark Eden, an activist with the animal rights group New Zealand Open Rescue, guilty of burglary after he rescued hens from a battery-egg operation. Mark and about 10 other activists raided Turk’s Poultry Farm in Foxton in November 2006, removed 20 hens and then found homes for the birds.


Mark, who represented himself during the three-day trial, told the court that the open rescue mission was a last resort after years of failed lobbying to ban battery farming. He showed the court video footage taken during the raid and argued it was the operators of battery farms who were breaking the law. He never disputed entering the sheds and claimed he was preventing a crime against the hens.


It took the jury less than 15 minutes to return a guilty verdict. The judge told Mark that no matter how sincere his intentions, he could not take the law into his own hands. He was sentenced to 150 hours’ community work and ordered to pay $180 compensation to Turk’s Poultry. Each of the chickens taken was worth $9 on the market.


Mark Eden’s jury trial is the first of its kind in New Zealand. He maintains that by removing battery hens from Turk’s farm, he was mitigating suffering, not stealing property. As the trial closed, open rescue supporters held a non-violent protest outside the District Court highlighting the plight of battery hens. Mark is the only activist to be convicted following an open rescue, of which at least 20 had been carried out since the one at Turk’s Poultry. In 2005, he was convicted and discharged after chaining himself to a bacon truck to protest against battery farming.


“Everyone is entitled to justice,” said Mark outside the court. “I’m entitled to justice, and those hens are entitled to justice. Battery farmers don’t want to have these cases come up all the time because it highlights the issue. If ever those people come to trial, the law as it stands says that you should not put hens in cages … unfortunately, I was on trial, not the battery farmers.” He said that at least the hens he helped rescue are happy, safe and will live long lives.


In 1994, the New Zealand government introduced citizen-initiated referendums, where a petition of 200,000 signatures required a review of any law. But a battery farming petition that attracted 360,000 signatures was deemed not valid and the referendum was never passed.


About 3 million layer hens are still in cages in New Zealand, despite overwhelming public opposition to battery farming and over 20 years of legal campaigning by animal rights activists. Caged hens cannot run, walk, perch or dust bathe, and their skin is abraded from rubbing against the sides of the cage. Hens suffer from lack of space, stressful social crowding and skeletal weakness. According to New Zealand Open Rescue, Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee found in 2006 that battery farming breaches the Animal Welfare Act, and only a special intervention by Minister of Agriculture Jim Anderton allows this cruel practice to continue.

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