One animal rights activist has been detained after storming the race track at the Epsom Derby today, as police arrested 20 people over plans to ‘cancel or severely delay’ the Epsom Derby.
Eleven people were arrested at addresses in Mitcham and Byfleet in the early hours, Surrey Police said.
A further eight people were arrested after their vehicle was stopped in Burgh Heath at around 10:20am this morning. All were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance and remain in police custody.
Environmentalists and animal welfare zealots Animal Rising said protesters will attempt to shut down the race in their bid to protect the animals, following disruption caused to the Grand National in April.
The warning came after the Jockey Club, which owns Epsom Downs, was last week granted a High Court injunction against the group, claiming it had made ‘explicitly clear’ it intended to breach security at the Surrey racecourse.
A man is arrested by police officers at Epsom Derby racecourse ahead of expected action by animal welfare protesters later today
By 11am on Saturday police had arrested 19 people in connection with planned criminal disruption at the Epsom Derby Festival
By 11am on Saturday police had arrested 19 people in connection with planned criminal disruption at the Epsom Derby Festival.
In a defiant announcement following the arrests, Animal Rising said police would not stop them from disrupting the Derby.
They said: ‘Earlier this morning, at least 10 arrests were made by Surrey Police, allegedly in connection with the Epsom Derby.
‘This comes after reports of facial recognition camera around Epsom Downs Racecourse.
‘Police heavy-handedness and intimidation tactics will not prevent a national conversation about our animals and the natural world.
‘It restates its commitment to protect horses and disrupt the Derby.’
On Friday Surrey Police warned they ‘will not tolerate’ risks to public safety after an Animal Rising spokeswoman told Sky News she would do ‘what’s necessary’, including breaking the law, to protect the animals.
Writing on Twitter, the activist group claimed it was willing to ‘put their bodies on the line’.
Superintendent Michael Hodder said: ‘We have been clear in our approach that criminal activity will not be tolerated at the Epsom Derby Festival. As a result of intelligence, we have arrested 19 people who we believe were intent on illegally disrupting today’s events.
‘Our officers will be at the event throughout the day to continue in keeping the public safe and preventing criminality.’
But a primary school teacher and Animal Rising activist has said the police ‘abused their power’ when they arrested 19 people ahead of the Derby.
Louise Hillwood, who claimed she was wrongfully arrested prior to the coronation and released without charge, delivered a speech at a gathering of activists outside the Surrey racetrack as finely-dressed visitors filed in through the gates.
She said: ‘As long as there are industries where animals are being harmed like the horse racing industry, like when animals are exploited for food, for entertainment, for sports, there will be people who are willing to step in and use their bodies to put themselves between harm and the animals.’
Speaking afterwards, she described the arrests on Saturday morning as ‘police over-reach’.
She said: ‘I do think it’s heavy-handed. These are peaceful protests.
‘If I had to jump over a fence to protect an animal from harm, I would do that.
‘What happened today with the 19 people arrested is an over-reach and an abuse of their power.
‘We’ve seen this time and time again – it was just three weeks ago at the coronation where some 50 peaceful protesters were wrongfully arrested.
‘This is just another example of that. I was attending a training day where we learn about non-violent protest.
‘The police burst in, saying we were a different protest group and we were planning to disrupt the coronation, which was absolutely untrue.’
There was disruption at the Grand National at Aintree in April when the race was delayed by just over 10 minutes after demonstrators made their way on to the track and had to be removed by police.
In preparation a heavy police presence was seen at the racecourse on Saturday morning, with dozens of officers being briefed at the track.
Officers are on high alert for any sign of Animal Rising or other protesters attempting to get onto the racecourse
There was a heavy police presence at the Epsom Derby early on Saturday morning
Animal Rising set up a stall at the entrance to the Epsom Derby after consultations with race organisers
Activists gather ahead of the public arriving at Epsom racecourse later today
Activists held signs with slogans such as: ‘Animal abuse is not sport’
Orla Coghlan appeared on Sky News ahead of Animal Rising’s protest at Epsom Derby
Police officers were at the scene to engage with the protesters at the entrance to the racecourse
Spokesperson for Animal Rising Orla Coghlan told Sky News on Saturday that the group is planning a peaceful protest outside the racecourse, as well as more direct action in a bid to protect the horses due to race today.
Ms Coghlan said: ‘There will be a demonstration outside the front and there will also be people trying to get onto the tracks to protect the horses.
‘We know that the horses are already endangered, we know that a horse dies every other day in British racing, and we know that in the month of May over 20 horses have died.
‘That’s not good enough and that needs to change.’
When asked about statistics which show 0.2 percent of racehorses die during races, Ms Coghlan said: ‘If this was a sport such as gymnastics or tennis and our top athletes were dying every other day it would be completely unacceptable.’
She also slammed the British Horseracing Association and trainers of the late Hill 16, a horse who died after breaking their neck at the first jump in the Grand National, who have tried to blame Animal Rising protesters for the death.
Dozens of police officers arrive at Epsom on Saturday ahead of a day of racing which protesters have pledged to disrupt
Police officers are preparing for potential disruption to the Epsom Derby by Animal Rising activists
Officers patrol the grounds at Epsom before members of the public arrived on Saturday
‘It’s quite horrific for the British Horseracing Association to try and deflect any blame for the death of Hill 16, because we know that every year two to three horses die in the Grand National.
‘I would ask, if the trainers were concerned that the horse was getting spooked, why didn’t they pull Hill 16 from the race, if this is really about horse welfare? I don’t believe it is.’
She continued: ‘Wherever horses are being harmed there will always be people willing to put themselves in front of that harm’s way.
‘I absolutely don’t doubt that the owners and the jockeys love their horses, I’m not questioning that at all, but I think their actions are not in line with our values.
‘We’re whipping these horses to the finish line, if we are putting them in harm’s way so that they die every other day.
‘We know that the British public are on our side.’
She added that the safety of the horses and the safety of the jockeys is the group’s main priority.
Speaking on Friday, a spokesman for Surrey Police said that, while they would help support peaceful protests, they would ‘not tolerate’ criminal activity or risks to the public.
They said: ‘The guiding principles of policing protests are the safety of protesters, the public and police officers involved, preventing criminal behaviour or disorder and de-escalating tensions.
‘We do not comment on officer numbers for operational reasons, but our officers are well-trained in responding to protests and will be on hand throughout the day to police the event.
‘Where lawful, we will seek to facilitate peaceful protests.
‘Any criminal activity or risk to public safety will not be tolerated, and we will take robust action in response to this.’
police officers prepare for a busy day at the Epsom Derby on Saturday
Animal Rising activists caused disruption to the Grand National at Aintree in April (pictured)
Speaking yesterday, ahead of the planned protest on Saturday, Nathan McGovern, of Animal Rising, said: ‘We are looking to continue the conversation that we started at the Grand National about our broken relationship with animals and nature.
‘On the ground we are looking to cause the cancellation or severe delay of the event so that everyone in the country has this discussion.’
Jockey Club officials fear the protest will endanger participants, racegoers and horses, although they said they do not dismiss the right to peaceful protest and have offered Animal Rising an area near the racecourse’s entrance to demonstrate.
The injunction granted by High Court judge Sir Anthony Mann bans people from going on to the racetrack and carrying out other acts with the intention and/or effect of disrupting the races.
Such acts include intentionally causing objects to enter the racetrack, entering the parade ring, entering and/or remaining on the horses’ route to the parade ring and to the racetrack without authorisation and intentionally endangering any person at Epsom Downs racecourse during the two-day Derby Festival.
Those breaching the court order may be subject to contempt of court proceedings and fined or jailed.
Ms Coghlan told Sky News the group had no intention of attempting to disrupt the race once it has gotten underway.