Anti-vivisection protesters were given suspended sentences for breaching the injunction

Two anti-vivisection protesters have avoided jail after they admitted breaching a Supreme Court order restricting demonstrations at a site where animals are bred for medical research.

Michael Maher (48) and Sammi Laidlaw (35) were sentenced to suspended prison sentences on Tuesday by a judge at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

MBR Acres Limited, a company that breeds animals for research, accused the couple of entering an exclusion zone at their site in Wyton, Cambridgeshire, in breach of a judge’s order, during demonstrations against vivisection in November 2021 and May this year.

Maher, from Dorchester, Dorset, and Laidlaw, a housing officer from Southend, Essex, who is part of the Camp Beagle protest group, admitted unintentional breaches, including entering the zone and approaching or obstructing vehicles leaving it.

Mr Justice Nicklin gave Maher a three-month jail term suspended for 18 months and gave Laidlaw a 28-day sentence which was also suspended for 18 months.

Concluding that their breaches were not accidental and had caused harm, he warned the couple that “the future is in your hands” and urged them not to breach the order again or “the overwhelming likelihood will be that the court will send you to prison” .

A third protester, 52-year-old Victoria Asplin, a carer from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, was given no sentence for a similar breach of the injunction in May, with the judge deeming her case less serious and including an unintentional breach.

“Moderate your protest so that you abide by the rules,” the judge told all three defendants.

In a separate ruling Tuesday, the judge criticized MBR Acres for its “completely frivolous” bid that “borders on vexatious” to bring contempt of court proceedings against a lawyer it alleged had violated the injunction by entering the exclusion zone and obstructing a vehicle.

Gillian McGivern, whose law firm has acted for protesters arrested at the Wyton site, was initially accused by the company of being a protester herself and covered by the terms of the injunction which read for “persons unknown”.

But Ms McGivern insisted she had no knowledge of the injunction and had visited the site to gain a better understanding of the legal issues there.

Justice Nicklin concluded that “the breaches alleged were trivial or entirely technical”.

“Other than a technical violation, it is difficult to identify any civil wrongs committed by McGivern,” he said.

He added: “This was not the kind of behavior that the injunction was ever intended to catch.

“The court does not grant injunctions to litigants to be used as a weapon against those perceived as adversaries.”

The judge said he would issue an order requiring MBR Acres to obtain permission from the court before it can bring further contempt applications against anyone alleged to be in the “persons unknown” category.

For sentencing, Caroline Bolton, representing MBR Acres, argued in written arguments that the three protesters’ “flagrant” breaches were “willful disobedience of the injunction order”.

“The defendants were not prevented from exercising their right to object, and did not have to violate the injunction to exercise that right,” she said.

Addressing the judge on Tuesday, the protesters, who are among a number of activists against whom MBR Acres has taken legal action, apologized for their actions.

Maher told the court he had a “very short fuse”, adding that he was protesting an allegedly “evil business that sends puppies to be sent to laboratories so they can be poisoned to death”.

Laidlaw claimed in court: “Myself and others are trying so hard to crack down on what we feel is an illegal business.”

In sentencing, Justice Nicklin said the injunction was to prevent “unpleasant confrontations” and “flaring up” between protesters and staff at the Wyton site.

He added that it aimed to “keep the balance between the rights of the protesters to protest and the rights of the employees to come and go freely”.

The judge was previously told that pop star Will Young had been involved in a demonstration outside the Wyton area in November.

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