What motivates badger cull saboteurs to target the farming community?
Abi Kay met convicted animal rights activist Jay Tiernan to see what farmers are up against.
Jay Tiernan, or Gamal Eboe, as he was formerly known, is one of the UK’s most notorious animal rights activists.
Founder of the Stop The Cull campaign, he was introduced to the animal rights movement in December 1996 when he attended an anti-fox hunting demo.
From there, he went on to take part in the campaign against animal testing at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), which later turned violent and saw activists jailed for attacking one director with pick axe handles.
In 2000, Mr Tiernan dropped out of the organised animal rights movement, but was persuaded to set up an anti-badger cull group 12 years later when a cull saboteur refused to take part in BBC Panorama after being approached by producers.
It was then Mr Tiernan chose to take over the running of the nascent badger cull campaign, at the time headed up by convicted blackmailer Debbie Vincent, believing Panorama would be an ‘amazing opportunity’ for publicity.
Under Mr Tiernan, Stop The Cull works on two fronts – first, to physically disrupt the culls, and second, to draw attention to the issue online.
On the ground in the cull zones, the activists will use a number of tactics. In the run-up to a cull, protestors will patrol the land to find badger setts.
“This work has meant farmers are not putting cages directly on setts, because they know we know where they are, so they have to put the cages further away,” Mr Tiernan said.
Forcing farmers to place cages further away from the setts means the number of badgers trapped decreases, but the number of cages put out has to increase.
“In Herefordshire in 2017, 44 cages had to go out in one night to catch one badger,” said Mr Tiernan.
“I know a vaccinator who can put 10 cages out and expect to catch 8 badgers.”
Other sabotage which takes place during the culls includes destroying cages, closing cage doors overnight and removing bait used to help free shooters lure badgers to a certain area.
The number of activists taking part in the disruption varies widely from zone to zone. Devon only has around two people on the ground, while Cheshire is believed to have more than 100 on a weekend.
But it is not just hardcore saboteurs on the frontline. According to Mr Tiernan, professionals such as doctors and teachers take part in non-illegal activity too.
“Those people are incredibly useful, doing circuits of footpaths,” he said.
“If they co-ordinate with sabs, you have got people going through an area which you know is being targeted, and they are stopping shooting there so sabs can work somewhere else.”
This physical disruption of the culls means the cost of policing them is high – something Stop The Cull regularly complains about, despite the fact it is responsible for the extra expense.
“When we make culling expensive to do, the Government will never be able to say it saves the taxpayer money,” said Mr Tiernan.
Online, the campaign revolves around exposing people who take part in the culls by publishing their personal details such as phone numbers and home addresses.
This two-pronged operation requires considerable cash, which comes mainly from crowdfunding.
One hunt saboteur group claimed Mr Tiernan raised more than £70,000 in 2014 alone to pay for anti-cull activity, but he claims to live on money raised from selling merchandise such as t-shirts, hoodies and bags.
“When you are clear about what you are fundraising for, people are happy with it,” said Mr Tiernan.
“We do fundraisers for the cost of the website, mobile phone and broadband costs, road tax, insurance, the car, all of those things.
“Middle England lawful groups have much greater access to funding.”
Mr Tiernan also admits money he made from defrauding the Department for Education in the early 2000s was funnelled into animal rights activism.
“I was prosecuted for £3,000 worth of fraud, but I earned something like £30,000 in the space of six months,” he said.
“All of my co-defendants were very well-known animal rights activists and yes, a lot of that money was funnelled back into the animal rights movement, but it was also spent on rent and living.”
Mr Tiernan’s fraud conviction is not the only brush he has had with the law, having been given a six-month suspended prison sentence in 2015 for breaching an NFU injunction to protect farmers taking part in the culls.
He breached the injunction in nine different ways, including by filming cull participants.
In sentencing Mr Tiernan, the judge took into account the fact he had said sorry to those concerned, but he told Farmers Guardian he did not regret his actions ‘at all’.
Asked why he had apologised if that was the case, he said: “To avoid prison. I would do anything in court to try to get away from being sent to prison.”
The convicted activist was also clear he had no qualms about publishing farmers’ details online, even if it put their families at risk.
“If you get involved with something which is controversial, you cannot be surprised when it adds stress to your life,” he said.
“Everyone signing up for the badger cull knows animal rights activists exist, so when they complain we are making their life a nightmare, they knew it was coming.”
Mr Tiernan also admitted revealing home addresses could make it possible for farmers’ children to become victims of harassment.
“If a farmer’s whole family are living in the house, they are all benefitting from his work,” he said, adding he would not feel responsible if a child or spouse of a farmer were to be targeted because of information he had published online.
“People have got to take responsibility for their own actions,” he said.
“If I am responsible for putting out a farmer’s details, we would never encourage people to go round and throw bricks through their windows or set fire to their cars as we have seen in other animal rights campaigns.”
So what next for Mr Tiernan? Would stopping the badger cull be enough?
“First and foremost, we want to stop the badger culls, but we are always going to have an agenda of promoting animal rights and direct action, making people feel OK about criminal damage,” he said.
Through winter, when the culls are not happening, Stop The Cull social media accounts will cover fox hunt sabotage instead, because ‘the people involved are campaigning against the badger cull’.
For Mr Tiernan specifically, undercover filming, particularly on dairy farms, is becoming more common.
He is also focusing his attention on shooting, collaborating with journalists to get footage for newspaper stories.
“A national paper has made it clear to me they are really keen on highlighting how many pheasants are being shot and thrown away,” he said.
“When you are told that by a journalist, you think ‘OK, this is my work’.”
Whatever the future holds for badger culling, it is clear farmers will not see the back of Mr Tiernan any time soon.