Flashback: 25 April 1992 – the biggest anti-vivisection demo ever

On this day in 1992, thousands of people marched through central London to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals (WDLA). The event was organised by the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) who said: “This year we broke our own record for the largest anti-vivisection march ever as in the region of 23,000 people supported a good natured but noisy march to Earls Court.

NAVS’ giant inflatable beagle, Charlie, greeted the marchers and inside Earls Court was a massive 35 screen video wall playing films. Numerous stalls distributed information and sold merchandise and there was even a fashion show.

The rally was addressed by Jan Creamer of NAVS, representatives of overseas anti-vivisection groups, MPs, MEPs and celebrities. An incident occurred when a group of people called out for ALF Press Officer Robin Webb to speak. NAVS said: “No-one was interested in this self-indulgent and destructive minority, who were quickly ejected.”

In context: WDLA was established in 1979 and 24 April was chosen as it was the birthday of former NAVS president, Hugh Dowding. It quickly became the movement’s centrepiece and large marches took place throughout the eighties against animal hellholes such as Porton Down, Shamrock Farm, Hazelton, Wickham, and Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds and Edinburgh Universities.

From 1990, NAVS held protests in London to maximise the turnout. That year nearly 10,000 marched from the Little Brown Dog in Battersea Park. This increased to about 18,000 in 1991. Grassroots anti-vivisection was also on a roll as there were high profile ALF raids against breeders and laboratories such as Interfauna, Royal London Hospital and Boots.

The campaign against Boots the Chemist intensified following an inspection of its Nottingham laboratory by the Animal Liberation Investigation Unit. This led to the formation of London Boots Action Group (LBAG) and other anti-Boots groups. It was reported that 60 of their stores were being attacked by the ALF each month.

What happened next: 1993’s WDLA march was slightly smaller at 20,000 and along the route there was a sit down outside Boots, which was condemned by NAVS. Resentment towards grassroots campaigners had been simmering for some time as they had refused to let the ALF Supporters Group, the Animal Rights Coalition and LBAG have stalls at their fair. An “alternative fair” was set up instead.

In their magazine The Campaigner NAVS railed against the activists for asking to speak at the rally (“No-one has the right to speak at World Day”), for being “money grabbers” by having stalls in Hyde Park, and by urging “people who do not care about the future of the World Day march to organise their own events.”

In ARC News, Neil Lea defended using World Day to make money as it helped finance campaigns to save animals. He also said: “I am not against national groups in principle but against the way our three major national groups are presently run. Talking to other activists…I feel this the general feeling of the movement.”

Another WDLA march and rally was held in 1994 but numbers had declined to about 15,000. An “alternative fair” took place and also a protest at Shamrock Farm primate breeders in East Sussex. Activists were heeding NAVS’ advice to organise their own protests.

In 1995 NAVS dropped the demonstration claiming: “There were no new elements we could add…and that it could start to become stale.” Since then no WDLA demo has come anywhere near the numbers of the early nineties. Boots caved in to pressure and closed down its laboratory in 1994.

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