Barry Horne died in prison on 5 November 2001, while serving an 18 year sentence for arson against companies involved in animal abuse. It is still the longest sentence ever given to an animal rights campaigner but Barry will always be remembered for his three hunger strikes.
The first thing to say about Barry – and this is often overlooked – is that we was an ordinary working class bloke. Animal rights tends to be the domain of the middle classes yet he was a dustman and road sweeper who, so the story goes, went to an animal rights meeting in Northampton which changed his life for good.
Barry had been involved in left wing politics – one famous photo of him was taken at an anti-fascist protest – but henceforth he focused on animal liberation. In 1988 he and three others were convicted of “stealing” a bottlenose dolphin named Rocky from Marineland in Morecombe, Lancashire. Barry was fined £500 and given a six month suspended sentence.
He and others then set up a campaign to free Rocky and after attendances plummeted at Marineland, Rocky was released to spend the rest of his life in freedom. There are now no captive dolphins in the UK.
In 1991 Barry started producing the Support Animal Rights Prisoners (SARP) bulletins. As well as prisoner lists they became a vehicle for tactical views. He condemned older activists for their “petty jealousies and divisions… who have forgotten what the movement was all about”, in contrast to “newer recruits” who “understand only too well that it should be about the animals alone”.
Even after he received three years for possessing incendiary devices, Barry still managed to edit SARP from prison (imagine that today!). His belief was that the movement had lost the radical edge it had in the eighties and in the final edition of the newsletter in June 1993 he said:
“The animals continue to die and the torture goes on in greater and greater measure. People’s answer to this? More vegeburgers, more Special Brew, and more apathy. There is no longer any animal liberation movement. That died long ago. All that is left is a very few activists who care, who understand and who act. For some of us animal liberation IS a war that we intend to win… the tears are real, our hearts really do break and we ARE prepared to die for it, not just chant for it.”
After his release in 1994 Barry decided to do all he could to put his views into action. He began working as a one-man ALF cell and over the course of the next two years there were arson attacks against Boots the chemist, cancer charities which funded animal testing and shops that sold fur and leather. Eventually Barry was arrested in Bristol in June 1996.
In January 1997 while on remand he began his first hunger strike to demand the government stop funding vivisection within five years. There was an upsurge in activism including major demos at Harlan, Consort and Hillgrove lab animal breeders where large amounts of damage were caused and animals liberated.
Barry started eating again after 35 days due to receiving encouraging messages from the soon-to be Labour government, such as animal welfare spokesperson Elliot Morley, who wrote: “Labour is committed to a reduction and an eventual end to vivisection.”
Labour had published a glossy pamphlet called “New Labour New Life for Animals”, which promised much, but Barry began his second hunger strike on 12 August with the aim of ensuring the new Labour government withdrew all animal testing licences within an agreed timeframe. Another massive upsurge in activism ensued, with major demos against Hillgrove and Shamrock Farms and Wickham Laboratories, as well as pickets of Labour’s HQ and Jack Straw’s home. A protest camp was also set up outside the infamous Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory.
The pressure became so intense that the government was forced into action. The Home Office Minister, Lord Williams of Mostyn, contacted Barry’s supporters with an offer of dialogue. On 26 September, he called off his hunger strike after 46 days.
In November 1997 Barry stood trial for attempted arson in Bristol, but denied involvement in earlier attacks on the Isle of Wight which caused £3m damage. Although there was no direct evidence to link him to those attacks he was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 18 years.
The third hunger strike began on 6 October 1998. Another wave of demonstrations and direct action occurred in the UK and abroad and as Barry’s health worsened the world’s media took notice. After 44 days there was another meeting with the Home Office but Barry chose to carry on with the simplified demand of a royal commission on vivisection.
On 24 November, a banner was dropped to support Barry in front of the Queen’s limousine as it drove towards the opening of Parliament. Two activists parked their car at the end of Downing St, slashed the tyres and used D-Locks to fasten their necks to the steering wheel. It took police an hour to remove them.
The same day Barry worsened and was transferred to hospital. Over the next three weeks – with media coverage at fever pitch – there were various overtures from the Home Office and politicians but Barry was increasingly unable to comprehend their proposals.
Though he was close to dying, on 9 December the authorities decided to move Barry back to prison. According to his support website, “It was at best a cynical and callous act perpetrated by a cowardly government terrified of the consequences of an Animal Liberation prisoner dying in custody.”
He was no longer able to focus, would sometimes forget he was on hunger strike, and was incapable of making decisions about the proposals on offer. Finally on day 68 he agreed to resume eating and was rushed back to hospital.
Barry never fully recovered from the third hunger strike and he went on countless more in prison “without any cohesive strategy and with little support”. His final fast began on 21 October 2001 and he died 15 days later of liver failure, after signing a directive refusing medical treatment
Although there had been some sympathetic media coverage of the hunger strikes, the reports on his death were uniformly hostile with The Guardian describing him as “the first true martyr of the most successful terrorist group Britain has ever known, the animal rights movement”.
Barry died as animal rights activism was on the rise and many in the movement did regard him as a hero and a martyr. In 2001 HLS came within a whisker of closure and by then several lab animal breeders had met their demise. In the course of the next three years there were further victories and it appeared the militancy he espoused would triumph.
However we now know different. The sort of dedicated, unswerving belief in animal liberation that Barry epitomised seems to belong to a different age to the pacified and subdued movement that currently exists in the UK.
What would he thought of the state of affairs that exists today? This is the man who argued the movement had lost its way in the nineties and yet what passes for activism now is – with odd exceptions such as the badger cull campaign – a pale shadow of the past.
Perhaps it’s time Barry was taken off his pedestal and made to bear some responsibility for what has gone on. His brand of do or die activism set the movement on a collision course with the state and capitalism. It could be argued that this would have happened anyway but in hindsight it was a battle that those in animal rights were singularly ill equipped to win.
Barry believed the way forward was through ever greater militancy by the “very few activists who care, who understand and who act” and he tried to use himself as an example to haul everyone else over the line with him.
But in the end what he didn’t understand – or refused to acknowledge – was that the animal rights movement alone could not achieve the end of vivisection. That will only arise when the vast majority of people – the working class – determinedly build a society based on production for need, not profit.
Anarchism provides an ideological framework by which this can happen. It is not a blueprint – revolutions aren’t planned and concocted, they happen with a will of their own – but at its core of working class self organisation without hierarchies, it does give an understanding of how to change the world.
Animal rights or liberation, by contrast, is not a political ideology. Activism by itself is not a substitute for class struggle and overthrowing capitalism. Barry and many others thought it was and that the animal rights movement would be able to liberate all laboratory animals, either through direct action or by pressuring a Labour government into action.
Behind the myth of the indefatigable activist and martyr there was a strong willed, determined man who deserves to be remembered for bravely fighting for animals. Yet Barry Horne was a fallible human being too.