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Disrupting Grand National is ‘Just the Start’, Says Animal Rebellion

The direct action group plans to ‘liberate’ animals in slaughterhouses and farms over the summer – and halt horse-racing events, Josiah Mortimer reports

Animal Rebellion activists disrupt a horse-racing event at Epsom last year. Photo: Animal Rebellion

Disrupting Grand National is ‘Just the Start’, Says Animal RebellionAfter Mail on Sunday ‘Exposé’ Leads to Surge in Support

The direct action group plans to ‘liberate’ animals in slaughterhouses and farms over the summer – and halt horse-racing events, Josiah Mortimer reports

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Animal Rebellion, the direct action group campaigning for the “liberation” of animals, plans to go ahead with a protest during the Grand National after the Mail on Sunday published a front-page story ‘exposing’ its planned action over the weekend. 

The efforts were due to put a stop to the racing at the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool on 13 to 15 April. While a static protest will still go ahead, police are now expected to have a heavy presence to ward off any disruption. 

An estimated 600 million people worldwide watch the industry’s biggest event of the year, and hundreds of millions of pounds are placed in bets.

But Byline Times can reveal that the Grand National protests are just the start of a summer of action by Animal Rebellion, with animal rights activists planning to disrupt other horse-racing events, as well as ‘freeing’ animals from slaughterhouses and factory farms.

Animal competitions and zoos are also potentially in line for disruption, a spokesperson for the group said.

The activist organisation – which has close links to Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain – aims to highlight the use of animals in entertainment and agriculture, with the horse-racing industry being just one of its targets. 

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‘Open Liberations’

Orla Coghlan, a London-based activist for Animal Rebellion, told Byline Times that the Mail on Sunday story “wasn’t that surprising” as the group’s training, which the undercover journalist attended, “was advertised online very publicly”. The Mail on Sunday said its journalist had infiltrated the group since last November. 

“We are proud of what we’re doing, standing up for animals,” she said. “We welcome everyone into the organisation. We’re still going to be there on the day of the Grand National at 9:30am. We encourage anyone who has read the story to join in and meet us at the gates.”

Animal Rebellion expects that 300 to 500 people will attend the Grand National protest. 

Coghlan told this newspaper that the group’s action will form part of a summer of such activities. “It will include open liberations – rescuing animals and putting them out of harm’s way – all to start a public conversation,” she said. “That is our main goal. We need a conversation about our relationship with animals. The biggest problems are in food and agriculture, and that is leading to the climate crisis.”

Asked if animal competitions such as dog show Crufts could be disrupted, Coghlan said this it could be the case – though Crufts itself has already happened this year. Coghlan believes that Britain “needs a conversation about our relationship with animals”, stating that 85% of the meat in the UK comes from factory farms. 

Animal Rebellion has been training activists for non-violent protest against “animal exploitation” for human profit or amusement, and is calling for more supporters to join in. The planned ‘open liberations’ or animal rescues over the summer aim to initiate “public conversations” on animal welfare.

Vegan activists protest against “animal abuse” in London last summer. Photo: Animal Rebellion

The planned disruption of the Grand National – which will now primarily revolve around a protest outside rather than bolt-cutting and ladders to get onto the racing track – is part of the group’s efforts to start these conversations.

There have been 37 horse deaths on the Grand National course since 2000, although there were none last year. Animal Rebellion says that humans need to stop treating animals as sources of entertainment on demand. 

Changing the Conversation

Coghlan, a former nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital, became involved in animal rights activism alongside concerns about the climate crisis. The group wants to transition to a plant-based – or vegan – food system, which they say could free up 76% of UK land for rewilding, turning Britain into a “temperate rainforest”. 

The campaigner says that the feedback the group has received since the Mail on Sunday story has been “mostly supportive” but admitted that “there’s always going to be pushback”.

“The purpose isn’t to be popular but to start a conversation,” she told Byline Times. “The disruption is part of it. It’s a massive thing to change as a society. All anyone can do is improve, the only way we can do that is through discomfort. For years, people have protested outside the Grand National in small numbers.”

Those numbers are now set to get much bigger, in part thanks to the Mail on Sunday story, she believes. 

Asked if she was prepared to go to prison for Animal Rebellion, she said: “Yes – I think so. It’s a very difficult and heavy thing to consider. It shows the weight of these decisions. When we’re talking about one billion animals being killed every year in the UK and things as heavy as the climate crisis… it’s an incredibly difficult question for me. I’m 28, I’ve always wanted to have children… To create big change, direct action is completely necessary.”

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The group has not been put off by anti-protest laws such as the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed last year. “We’ve just been keeping going. These issues are so immense,” Coghlan said.

The group is funded through crowdfunding and regular donations. One person understood to be a US national is match-funding its current crowdfunding effort, though the group has not confirmed who. “Lots of others are involved,” the group’s spokesperson told Byline Times

Coghlan claims its membership has “doubled” since last summer and it is now able to conduct “animal rescues” and disrupt more animal entertainment events. She included zoos in “animal entertainment”.

“We’re in 2023,” she said. “There are so many ways we can enjoy a weekend without exploiting animals. We’re a nation of animal lovers – for some reason the only way we can enjoy them is through exploitation. We need to find ways of enjoying animals without that.”

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