Matt Rayner and me protesting against Boots: the story behind the photo

Photos of me from the nineties, especially on protests such as this, are as rare as hen’s teeth. Taken 24 years ago on World Lab Animal Day, 24 April 1992, I’m standing on the right, smiling and it seems enjoying holding the banner.

On the left looking a little uncomfortable is Matt Rayner, fellow activist and friend for five years. We are on a London Boots Action Group demonstration against Boots the Chemist because the company carried out experiments on animals. Unbeknown to the rest of us, Rayner was an undercover police officer, one of two in the group at the time.

20+ years ago hardly anyone took cameras to demos and activists usually didn’t like having their picture taken unless it was by the press. Nowadays everyone takes them and they’re all over social media. We’re lucky to have to have this photo – not only because it depicts an important and historic campaign – but also because it’s one of only two of Rayner and in the other he’s in fancy dress!

It was taken by Emilie E:son press officer for the Swedish Animal Liberation Front, the Djurens Befrielse Front. In her press release she said: DBF’s press officer went to London for taking part of the anti-vivisection event Saturday April 25 ’92. Also I had an oppurtunity to meet with various “brothers and sisters” as well as with the ALF’s press officer. Everywhere I went I felt most welcome.

 Emily sent the photo to Geoff Sheppard, who she’d known since he was in prison in the eighties. In a letter to me she said: “If you ask him I’m sure he’ll show it to you.” I can’t recall seeing it until 20 years later, however. By then we knew Rayner had been a spy and this wasn’t his real name – he had stolen the identity of a child who had died in 1972.

For a long time I had no idea when the photo was taken and assumed it was one of the regular Sunday afternoon demos we did in Camden. Recently I discovered a letter from Emilie with the date. Then I discovered it was a protest at Boots’ central London area office in Oxford Street.

That five-hour demo was only the hors d’oeuvre. Next day’s 23,000 strong NAVS march from Hyde Park to Earl’s Court was the main course. It’s reckoned to be the biggest animal rights demo ever. Finally on Sunday 26th LBAG held a six hour protest against a Boots-sponsored aerobics marathon, again at Earl’s Court. We worked hard in those days!

Rayner was involved in animal rights from 1991-96 and was prominent in the movement. The other spy was Andy Davey, known as Andy Van. No photos of him have emerged yet. If you or anyone you know has photos of them please contact me asap.

After a sustained campaign lasting over four years – including everything from leafleting and letter writing to direct action such as smashing their windows and arson attacks – Boots threw in the towel and off its animal laboratory in 1995. 

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