Activist guilty for freeing chickens

Mark Eden had strong views, but line had to be drawn, says judge.

Last updated 13:14 16/10/2008

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An animal rights activist found guilty yesterday of burglary after "liberating" chickens from a battery farm admitted using the court case to highlight the plight of battery hens.

Wellington animal rights activist Mark Eden, who represented himself throughout the three-day trial, was found guilty just 15 minutes after the Palmerston North District Court jury retired yesterday.

He and his supporters were clearly disappointed when the late-night reconnaissance mission at Turk's Poultry farm in November, 2006 was deemed illegal.

During the trial, Eden told the court the Open Rescue mission was a last resort after years of failed lobbying to ban battery farming.

He and nine others entered the rearing shed of the largest battery farm in the lower North Island, took 20 chickens and distributed them among safe homes, the court heard.

At sentencing, Eden told the court he had previous convictions for protest-related offences.

Judge Macdonald said he could accept that Eden held "strong and sincere views on the legalities of battery hens", but a line had to be drawn.

"It's a question of whether you learn from this experience."

Eden was sentenced to 150 hours' community work and ordered to pay $180 compensation to Turk's Poultry. Each of the chickens taken was worth $9 on the market.

It was a final warning and the courts would take a much more "firm" approach if similar offences were carried out in the future, he said.

His warning was followed by a peaceful picket outside the courthouse, involving a chicken suit and banners.

Eden is the only activist to be convicted following an Open Rescue, of which at least 20 had been carried out since the one at Turk's Poultry.

"Everyone is entitled to justice. I'm entitled to justice and those hens are entitled to justice," Eden said outside court.

"Battery farmers don't want to have these cases come up all the time because it highlights the issue.

"If ever those people come to trial, the law as it stands says that you should not put hens in cages . . . unfortunately I was on trial, not the battery farmers."

He chose to defend himself during the trial because he knew the issues better than a lawyer would, he said.

"I would not have been able to talk about the issues in the way I did."

 

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- Manawatu Standard

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