with guest John Curtin
About this Episode
John Curtin is a veteran animal rights activist in the United Kingdom who now heads up Camp Beagle—a protest that sits right outside the gates of Marshall BioResources, or MBR. An American company, MBR breeds beagles and other animals for biomedical research. For over 18 months people from all over the world have come to Camp Beagle in the U.K. to protest against MBR. Camp Beagle is an actual ‘camp’–complete with tents and food, and anyone is welcome to stay and engage in protesting to help save the MBR beagles.
Guest: John Curtin
John got his start in the animal rights movement at an early age. He quickly found his calling, getting involved in a wide range of activism, from protests to other actions. John would be a part of some of the most iconic actions with the Animal Liberation Leagues and the Animal Liberation Front, raiding labs across England. Today he heads up Camp Beagle, a long-standing protest outside the Marshall BioResources facility in Cambridgeshire, U.K.
ELLIE HANSEN, Host:
Camp Beagle is quite an amazing project that has gained international attention and support in a short period of time. In fact, I don’t know of any other protest for laboratory dogs—done on this scale, and for this long—that has ever happened in history. So how exactly did Camp Beagle get started?
JOHN CURTIN, Guest:
The thing to bear in mind about Camp Beagle, maybe this is something to learn in life, is that I wouldn’t have really got involved if it had been a planned thing. If 18 months ago, if someone said to me, do you wanna spend the next 18 months on the side of a road at a dirty, stinking, rotten dog factory? I would’ve said, “No. Thank you very much.” But it just grew. It grew organically.
It came from one woman who went to a very small demonstration outside the place and she just said she couldn’t leave. You know that feeling after a demonstration when you walk away and maybe you can… she could still hear the dogs crying. And she just said, I’m not leaving. So her, another friend said to her, well, I can’t leave you here overnight. And the word just spread. And within a few days I was down there and basically I’ve been sort of, kind of stuck ever since. So yeah. There’s nothing been like it before. Cause, I wouldn’t have been mad enough to plan this. I’m gonna live on the side of a road for 18 months. No. So it’s happened through a sort of, organic, magical process, really, and we’re still there, and we’re absolutely determined if it’s gonna be another 18 months, if it’s gonna be years, we’re prepared to stick it out. Now it’s like the battle lines have been drawn.
Do you know approximately how many dogs are at the MBR Acres facility where you are camped and which you hope to set free?
Okay. Everything to do with animal experiments. Every single element is a secret. It’s impossible to find out. We know how much capacity they’ve got. They’ve got capacity. It’s a massive giant factory, up to 2,000 dogs in there. I would guess, and I know this site well now, at any one time, there’s about a thousand dogs there. I’d say a 1,000 puppies.
Over the past year and a half you’ve been at Camp Beagle, what progress would you say you’ve made to free the MBR beagles?
We’ve made massive progress, but my heart sank when you asked me that question because the dogs are still there. But we’ve, every single day for 18 months now, 18 months, we’ve put the message out: this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. We’ve banged on about it. And sometimes in life something is so bad that you have to keep at it.
And so we’ve just been making them the same news headlines every day for 18 months. This is wrong. This is wrong. We’ve reignited the debate about vivisection. I’ve been involved for 40 years, four-zero- years in the antivivisection movement. And when I joined the movement back in the eighties, animal experiments were on top of the agenda.
Animal experiments went off the agenda and veganism took over…farmed animals. Now we’ve got—and Camp Beagle has been instrumental—we’ve got the animal experiments back where they belong in the spotlight, in the public agenda. But what we want to achieve is to liberate those dogs. Nothing else will do.
You live at Camp Beagle 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Your camp is basically a large tent. That is definitely a commitment, especially when the weather is bad and the temperatures are cold. Why did you make this decision to live there?
I’ve got a small campervan. We did begin in tents. I still sleep in the tents sometimes in the winter, but it’s rough. And the tents were, to begin with, it was harsh. You know, we literally had tents on the side of the road and we, it was a matter of while you were asleep, you were constantly having near death experiences because we were right on the verge. Uh, but what keeps us going is, I mean, I’ve got that gene in me. I’ve been doing campaigning now for 40 years, so I’ve been able to encourage the others cause. Especially now, the new generation, everyone’s, everyone wants things done in a flash. We want these like dramatic moments.
And yes, in activism we produce dramatic moments, but our real key to success is to just keep going. Dogged determination. Literally dogged determination to learn from the beagles about determination.
Camp Beagle defines itself as a “strictly lawful advocate group with your primary objectives being to free the beagles bred at MBR and to ban animal testing in the UK.
You do this through a public awareness campaign, lawful pressure tactics, industry exposure and by challenging the current law with scientific and ethical arguments.” Even though everything you’re doing is within the law, do you ever feel hassled by law enforcement in any way?
The authorities to a degree have tried everything they can to do to get rid of us. MBR, the company, they’ve spent one and a half million pounds in legal costs to try and get rid of us. They’ve brought an injunction out against us. I have been arrested outside there. I’ve been charged, but found not guilty. The charges don’t stick. And, what we found out when the–because the police massively overreact all the time against us–but when they do and they pull us up in front of the courts, we get found not guilty. So, yeah, but basically it’s very hard to demonize us because we’ve deliberately stayed within the law.
To me, it’s not a really a moral choice about what we’re doing at Camp Beagle. It’s a tactical choice. We’re broad daylight, we’re under the cameras. We need to be able to stay there for, so for tactical reasons. We scrupulously stay within the law.
And because you’re a veteran animal rights activist, this is nothing new to you. Animal liberation from research facilities is something you’ve been involved with a very long time, dating back a few decades at least I believe. You even spent some time in prison for liberating 82 beagles puppies and 26 rabbits from Interfauna, another research breeding facility in the UK.
Interfauna is MBR. It’s the same place. They just change…it’s like one of the tricks that the vivisectors do, the animal experimentors, you watch. They always change their names, their company. Once their names get known, they change them. When you try and find out who’s behind these companies, like just as simple as MBR Acres, we call it for like common sense reasons for simplicity an American company. But when you try and follow the money from MBR Acres, it’s honestly like trying to track down some Colombian cocaine cartel. The money goes…they set up all these parent companies. There’s about 10 stages before it gets back to Marshall Bio Resources. It ends up in Denmark at some point. We call it like “dirty fingers in dirty pies.” So that place that I’ve done for is the same place that I’m counting out now, and I went to prison for 18 months for liberating, yeah, like you said, 82 beagle puppies and 26 rabbits.
What is it that keeps you going every day and never giving up, despite the obstacles you have faced in your life?
The same love. Love and compassion. That’s it. Love and compassion and, and a burning sense…I’m gonna say hatred, but I try and get rid of that word out my life. A burning resentment towards injustice, you know, and what they’re doing to these beagles, they’re just clearly wrong. They’re just treating them as objects.
In those 40 years, I’ve spent most of it attacking the morality of animal experiments. But you watch the results that we are gonna get now. Now we’re getting into the science and it’s the science I think that’s finally gonna stop it, which is sad. You think we’d say, “Oh, we shouldn’t do this to other creatures,” but we do.
But once we can show, and more and more scientists are standing up now to say, “This is not only morally bankrupt, it’s scientifically bankrupt.” It doesn’t help. When you’re sick…let’s keep it simple. When you’re sick, you don’t go to a vet. You wouldn’t wanna go to a beagle specialist if your child was ill, would you? Let’s keep it simple. It doesn’t work. An experiment on a dog doesn’t tell you about what’s gonna happen to a mouse. An experiment on a mouse doesn’t tell you what’s gonna happen to a rat. We need safe clinical screening. And yet we’re doing experiments that were invented a hundred years ago.
I tell people about like mobile phones. My mobile phone I’m holding has more computer capacity than the entire NASA space missions of the sixties and seventies. They used to have to build warehouses to build those computers. Now on my phone, I can fit more computer capacity, but yet we’re still doing the same insane animal experiments that were dreamt up 100 years ago by the industry.
Anyone visiting Camp Beagle is described as being on the “frontlines.” Can you describe a typical day at Camp Beagle?
Typical day. Okay. Um, the security arrive at six o’clock and we’ve got an alarm on the gates. I sleep normally next to the gates. So each car that goes in, because they try and sneak dog vans in, it sets off our alarm. Then the workers come in at about eight o’clock and then we’ll get the drone up to see what’s happening.
We fly the drone over there every day and like yesterday they were doing lots of moving around and we got lots of really good footage. They literally move the dogs around in trolleys as if they’re in a…because it is a factory…it’s an assembly line. And that’s how they treat the dogs. They move them in a trolley as if they were moving you know, metal objects or something. Uh, so the mornings are comprised of flying the drone and people will always come by. People stop by and we literally always invite people to come by for a cup of tea and some cake. So we’ve got that. So people can just drop in and say hello to us because we’re physically there. We’re not just a social media phenomena. We’re in the real world.
And so the workers come at eight o’clock and they leave at four. So that eight o’clock and four o’clock is very important that we picket the gates. And the rest of the day is just taken up with surveillance, social media. Like I said, we get lots and lots of visitors. So no two days are alike. But yeah, we’re always busy.
So if I wanted to camp at Camp Beagle, what would I need to bring with me? Can you describe what the camp is like for someone who would want to go and join the protest?
Nothing. Cause we’ve got everything we need. People really do look after us. You know, we’ve got a lot of kindness put away. People are always asking me, what do you need? What do you need? And all I literally tell them is love. And then people send us things anyway, so everything you could want. We’ve got spare toothbrushes, spare socks. Extra clothes, sleeping bags. We’ve got spare tents. You wouldn’t need nothing except you. Honestly, we’ve been there 18 months now and we’ve had a lot of experienced people help us. We’ve got a kitchen, we’ve got a shower–a fully fitted kitchen. We’ve got toilets. You name it, we got it, on the side of the road.
You mentioned that you get a lot of visitors. Where are these people coming from? Does anyone visit from the U.S., or is it mostly Europe.
Uh, we have had some people from the United States, but they were over in England on holiday anyway, and they came along to see us. Yeah, lots of people from Europe. We’ve had visitors from the Scandinavian countries. From Finland. We’ve had lovely visitors from France. From Spain. From Ireland. Yeah. We’re just there. We’re there. To me, the thing I like about the camp is that it at least we’ve got boots on the ground because life is getting overtaken by this social media and the way activism, you know, the way we just press our screens. At least the camp is old school. It’s old school. We combine the two–old school and then we use the new technology. Because we wouldn’t be able to survive without the support we get really off social media, but we’re not dependent on it. Do you know what I mean?
I do know what you mean, and I love what you said about having “boots on the ground.” Camp Beagle has been there for over a year now. In the US, the First Amendment protects our right to assemble and express our views through protest. The same is true in the UK where everyone has the right to peaceful protest. Perhaps no enough people take to the streets for organized protest. However, if we—in the US, the UK, anywhere in the world—are to be a voice for getting dogs out of research laboratories, I believe we must speak up. We must get things shaken up. What are your thoughts as to how protest can support this cause?
Yeah, my thoughts are I think there’s a process of zombification taking place. We really have to be careful about our connection with social media and the phones, and we don’t lose sight of the real world. Remember, you know, the real world is there. So, yeah, there’s a, there’s a real, I, I’ve seen it over the decades, less and less people taken to the streets, and that frightens me to think that we’re gonna be, you know, resigned to protesting from our bedrooms. Now we need to go back on those streets and we, if we stop doing it, we’ll lose our place there, and they’ll bring in new laws and it’ll stop us. So we need…for me, it’s very, very important that we’re there in the real world.
And embrace all the modern technologies, but boots on the ground, you know? We need to get together and it’s encouraging to get together. The thing that keeps us going at the camp is that people that drop by, you know, maybe they’ve traveled for like three hours and they’re only gonna stay for a few hours or an hour or so, but they’ll come and have a cup of tea and some cake with us. And it’s that, that keeps us going. But also we love the social media, but there’s nothing like a trip to the camp, because then you get to hear the dogs, you get to smell. We try and do our best to convey, but there’s nothing like the real thing. So many people cry when they come to the camp.
Yeah, and I wanted to talk about that. What should protesters be prepared for at Camp Beagle—emotionally speaking? I ‘ve seen the videos of what you call the “death vans” full of beagle puppies headed to the laboratories to be tested on and killed, and it’s just plain awful to watch. I can imagine that being there physically is much, much harder.
It is. I don’t know what toll it’s taken on me, but I can tell it it’s taken its toll on me. It’s sort of, it’s wiped the smile off my face to a degree. It is hard, but I’m prepared to do it. I’m there by choice and there there’s not many people that actually are prepared to knuckle down and do it.
And I used to cry a lot more than I do. It’s actually stopped me crying. You think I’d cry more, but I, I worry. I used to cry a lot there and I don’t cry anymore. And I hope I’m not getting battle hardened and, and too hardened to it. But it does damage you. You know, like the cause, it’s relentless. But the reason for our success is it is because it is relentless and it’s 24-7.
But we try and look after each other and we force each other to leave now and then. You know, because you can tell when someone’s cracking up. And I’ve definitely spent too long there. I need to be dragged away from there continually.
Many listeners may not realize that the largest MBR facility for breeding beagles for research is actually in the United States. As of 2019, Marshall Farms had over 23,000 dogs in their breeding facilities destined for experiments. That is a staggering number. This interview is an opportunity for you to extend the mission of Camp Beagle to people in U.S. who are listening. What would you like to say to rally more support for the MBR beagles globally? While we are different countries, the issue is the same, and our hearts are together in this.
Absolutely. What we did at Camp Beagle, we wanted, we thought, right, we’re gonna do our thing and we’ll be a springboard. People will be encouraged, people will be inspired, people will be infused by what we do. And to be honest, we’re still waiting for America to jump on board. We’re just beginning to get some interest now. There’s a group called Rise for Animals, which have done some campaigning in the past about Marshalls. Evidently they’re quite powerful people stateside. And I’ve been told when people have demonstrated outside the New York facility, they get a terrible time from the cops.
But when I was told that, my mind immediately went to: don’t let that stop you. You know, get hold of up banner, stand outside, and as bad as what it is, a cop, a picture or film of a cop pushing someone to the ground just because they’re trying to peacefully protest is gonna help the dogs.
So just because of the fact that the cops give you grief, you know, don’t let that stop you people. I know it’s tough. Look after each other, but come on, America. We’re still waiting for you to get on board, actually, but it’s just beginning to happen. That’s the good news. We’re just putting our tentacles out there now.
And we’re in contact with France where MBR has got headquarters. And we’re just about to actually set up some international meetings with some activists already, so get on board. The time is now perfect.
Just in the 18 months we’ve been there, we do our research. We make all these allegations of cruelty, of abuse, of scandal. And MBR never ever responds. They never ever defend themselves about anything we say. I could tell you anything today, and it won’t be refuted by MBR. They’re so used to operating in secrecy. They’ve got no idea anymore of how to reach out themselves to the public.
The morality is one thing. Well, what about the science? What about when we say these experiments are useless? Show us one experiment that the MBR dogs have been used for that’s done actually any good? Silence. Just silence. And that’s gotta… what’s that about? You know that in itself. I just think all I’d wanna say really is that this is gonna be stopped. Animal experiments are gonna be an embarrassing legacy when we look back on ’em of the 20th century, thinking how were we so foolish and stupid?
But do we have to wait 20 years for this to happen, or 10 years? Because this is a scale of change. When you deal with sort of massive institutions and governments, you’re talking decades to change things. If that’s what it’s gonna take, then that’s what it’s gonna take. But how many lives will be lost?
It’s a disgrace what we do. To be honest, I hope that to me, the animals, those beagles act as ambassadors for all victims of violence. They really do. And if we don’t need to do it on dogs scientifically, then we don’t need to do it on mice and rats either, you know, but, we break people’s hearts about what’s happening to those dogs. I feel that when I’m there, I’m doing it on behalf of even all the chickens and the pigs that never see the sky as well. We need to make a breakthrough and let’s do it through this beagle campaign about we can’t treat animals like this anymore. We can’t treat the earth as an object, and we shouldn’t never treat any animal as an object.
They’re worth more than that. It’s a simple point.