Notes from the Animal Protection Trial – Week 6


Prosecution witness called from the UK

English police detective John Madigan involved in investigating animal rights extremism in the UK took the witness stand on Monday of the sixth week in court. He told the court that there had been no contact between activists he has investigated in the UK and the Austrian defendants. He also informed the court that none of the Austrian defendants were in the UK at the time of any of the relevant crimes. This prompted defence lawyers to question the relevance of this particular witness.

His presence as a witness became clear as Dr Martin Balluch told the court that he had lived in the UK until 1997. At this, the English detective suddenly announced that Balluch had a previous conviction from 1993. The conviction was a conditional fine. Following questioning from the defence it transpired that this conviction is a spent conviction and as such is not only no longer legally relevant but it is also not permitted to bring this conviction up in court. In response to this sneaky move by the prosecution Balluch told the judge that this conviction had resulted from an action where civil disobedience had been used in order to prevent the shooting of grouse.

The English detective went on to talk of police attempting to track down Dr Balluch in 1997 in connection with damage to a dog kennel. When asked in more detail about this the detective admitted that the files had been destroyed and that he was only aware of the matter because he had seen a memo about it on the police computer. Later during questioning Madigan confirmed that the investigation had been discontinued.

Asked what the SHAC campaign had to do with Austria Madigan answered that he only had the report of 4 demonstrations in February 2006 from the SHAC website. The Judge wanted to know if any offences had been committed in connection with these demonstrations. No, replied Madigan, they were legal demonstrations. The defence asked him if there had been any SHAC related offences in Austria. Madigan said he didn't know. Then the defence asked him if SHAC had liberated any animals. Yes, replied Madigan, but only rabbits and chickens from research labs, no pigs. Were the SHAC organisers only sentenced in connection with SHAC related offences? Yes, replied Madigan. And what was the total cost of the damage? Ten million pounds, replied Madigan.

The defence went on to ask Madigan whether anyone in the UK had ever been convicted of a total of all animal rights related offences. Madigan explained that the question made no sense to him. At this the public roared with laughter because of his incidental ridiculing of this Austrian trial and someone called out that this only happens in Austria! Asked the same question again Madigan said that in England people are only convicted of a crime if there is evidence proving that they have committed it. But, said the judge, the SHAC organisers weren't convicted because they had committed any crimes themselves but only because they had been involved in the planning of them. To which Madigan replied that when it could be proved that a SHAC organiser had agreed that an offence should be carried out by SHAC, then they were guilty of conspiracy to blackmail. In addition a number of defendants had also pleaded guilty to this charge. Madigan told the court that in his opinion there are many animal rights activists who are legally involved in SHAC campaigns.

Despite investigating UK animal rights extremism and its connections abroad, Madigan told the court that he had no knowledge of VGT or BAT. Several of the defendants asked Madigan whether he had ever heard of them, to which he replied in each case a clear no. The judge commented that she hadn't really learnt anything new about the link between England and Austria from this questioning.

Prosecution expert witness described as incompetent by peers

This week also saw the judge hear the prosecution's expert witness on linguistics. School teacher Wolfgang Schweiger is currently the only linguist in Austria authorised to give evidence as expert witness in court. He was, in his own words, given a suitcase full of texts to analyse. The texts included readers' letters to media, notes claiming responsibility for animal rights offences and texts written by Dr Balluch in 2008.

Schweiger came to the conclusion that Balluch was “almost certainly” the author of the notes and most, if not all of the readers' letters.

Since coming to his conclusion it has been proved that some of the readers' letters in fact come from other authors: They themselves have come forward after being shown the prosecution's evidence. The defence consulted two forensic linguists, both university professors in their field. They both have serious complaints about Schweiger's findings, not only referring to his not adhering to recognised standards in the methodology but also his failure to report that two of the three notes claiming responsibility for offences do not even qualify as such notes.

In addition the experts commented on Schweiger's negligent use of “almost certain authorship”. One of them said that there is no such thing as being 100% certain in their field and “almost certain” denotes 99% certainty. A conclusion of 99% certainty is extremely rare, so rare in fact that he himself has hardly ever used it in his long career. He went on to say that if a student had produced Schweiger's work he would have failed him.

The judge refused to accept the two additional witness statements or hear them in court. The defence insisted that should there be serious concerns about the competence of an expert witness the law states that a further expert should be consulted.

As a result only Schweiger was heard in court, although the judge has ordered that he responds to the criticisms made against him.


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© Keith Mann