Animal Liberation Front PR man is not journalist, court rules

PA Mediapoint 

Oxford University has won a ruling that the Animal Liberation Front's press officer is bound by an injunction banning protests at its new biomedical research laboratory.

Robin Webb, press officer of campaign group the Animal Liberation Front was a "propagandist", not a journalist, and should be bound by an injunction protecting staff, students and contractors at Oxford University's new biomedical research laboratory from harassment by protesters,

Mr Justice Irwin said at the High Court in London at a hearing on October 13.

The injunction against a number of named individuals and groups allows a weekly demonstration opposite the £20 million South Parks Road site but otherwise bans all protest activities within a designated exclusion zone to protect staff, students and contractors from intimidation and harassment.

The judge, at London's High Court, referred to a 1998 Dispatches programme in which Webb told a clandestine reporter how to construct an incendiary device, and to secret footage from 2003 telling a US conference how to manufacture a different design of device.

Webb had also told a newspaper, in February, that "Oxford was now the focus of all animal rights activity, and that anyone associated with the University was a legitimate target".

The judge said Webb, who was appointed in 1991, was a "central and pivotal figure" in the organisation and was fully adherent to its aims, strategy and tactics.

He went on: "There is a world of difference between a reputable journalist reporting extremist views on the one hand, and on the other hand a concerted and considered attempt to build up a threat so as to apply pressure to people, as part of a strategy linked directly to those committing crimes.

"Mr Webb is not a journalist keeping the public informed. He is a propagandist, who strives day after day to maximise and potentiate the effect of criminal acts on the minds of those whom he wishes to frighten.

"I have not the slightest difficulty in separating the one from the other. Nor have I the slightest difficulty in finding that Mr Webb's activity goes far beyond legitimate self expression.

"This distinction is not really affected by Mr Webb's careful and considered use of language.

"He is adept in public communication at maximising the impact of what he writes and says, while keeping a weather eye on how the literal words may be used so as to dance around the risk of an incitement charge.

"It is also relevant to observe the frequency and repetition of his statements.

"Day after day for years, as the evidence makes clear, he has persisted in seeking to maximise the effect of criminal activity."

The ruling binds Webb to an injunction which bans all protests from an exclusion zone around the South Parks Road laboratory, apart from a weekly demonstration.

Webb had argued that he was an apologist for the ALF, but not a member, that there was no evidence he had ever been involved in criminal activities, and that his role was lawful and legitimate.

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