More than 40 animal rights activists have been de-arrested after a large number of protesters attempted to gain entry to the Aintree Racecourse track, delaying the start of the flagship Grand National, campaign group Animal Rising said. Merseyside Police arrested 118 people on Saturday after scores of activists climbed fences, with at least two fixing themselves to a jump using glue and lock-on devices according to the animal rights group.
Animal Rising spokesperson Nathan McGovern said in a statement on Sunday: “We believe there were 118 arrests of Animal Rising supporters yesterday, with 68 in custody following the action.
“Five have been released thus far and 42 were de-arrested and turned out onto the street by police. No one has been charged at this time.
“The actions taken at Aintree yesterday aimed to prevent harm from coming to horses in the Grand National, with Hill Sixteen sadly falling in the race itself – a death that would have been prevented if the race had not been run.”
“Supporters of Animal Rising do not take the risk of arrest lightly, but taking action to protect animals and nature is more important than upholding business as usual.
“This is just the start of many peaceful actions to really create a national conversation about our fractured connection with animals and our natural world this summer, whether they result in arrests or not.”
The protesters breached security fences as National runners were in the parade ring, causing a delay of 12 minutes, although racegoers helped police and event organisers to stop some from reaching the track.
Merseyside Police had said: “We respect the right to peaceful protest and expression of views, but criminal behaviour and disorder will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.”
Force Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said on Saturday that protesters tried to access the course from a number of points at the far side of the track, but were removed “swiftly”.
He added: “We put a proportionate policing plan in place and, by and large, we were able to stop the vast majority entering on to the course, a small number did get on to the course, but, very quickly, they were removed, again in partnership with the event organiser, private security and police officers and staff.”
Mr White said 118 people were arrested for criminal damage and public nuisance offences, including some pre-emptively held before the race, and others over a protest on the M57 where activists glued themselves to the carriageway.
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Earlier on Saturday, Merseyside Police said three people had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, with a 25-year-old woman from London and a 55-year-old man from Greater Manchester arrested outside the racecourse on Saturday, and a 33-year-old woman from the London area held in the Greater Manchester area earlier in the day.
A horse, Hill Sixteen, was destroyed after falling at the first fence – the second to die at Aintree on Saturday and the third at the three-day festival – prompting campaigners to call for jump racing to be banned.
Animal Aid called for jump racing to be banned in the wake of the deaths.
The campaign group’s horse racing consultant Dene Stansall said: “Jump racing must be banned to prevent the brutal horrors seen today at Aintree and this week, from happening again.
“Innocent race horses’ lives taken from them in the name of entertainment and gambling. Aintree, the worst of all racecourses, is a disgrace and the Jockey Club and British racing should hang their heads in utter shame at what we have seen over the past three days.”
The League Against Cruel Sports said the death toll at the Aintree Festival was now 62 horses since 2000 – with 16 killed in the Grand National, including two last year.
The League called for “much more stringent” safety measures in horse racing, including banning the use of the whip.
Emma Judd, head of campaigns and communications at the League, said: “It cannot be more apparent that it is time for change and for the introduction of tighter safety measures in the Grand National, at the Aintree racecourse and at racecourses across the UK.
“One death is too many. Animal welfare needs to be put before gambling profits and entertainment, and steps need to be taken to end this carnage which is occurring year after year.
“A new independent regulatory body is required which has horse welfare as its number one priority. The use of the whip, which pushes horses beyond what they can safely do, should be banned.”
Dickon White, who runs Aintree Racecourse as North-West regional director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “Hill Sixteen was immediately attended by expert veterinary professionals during the Grand National, but sadly sustained a fatal injury. Our heartfelt condolences are with his connections.”
He added: “While racing in the third race, Dark Raven was immediately attended by our expert veterinary professionals. After assessment, sadly they concluded the necessary course of action for the horse’s welfare was to put him to sleep. Our sincere sympathies are with his connections.”
Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), said: “Our thoughts are with everyone connected to the horses who suffered fatal injuries this week.
“British racing works tirelessly to improve the sport’s safety record and reduce avoidable risk. Every incident is reviewed by the BHA alongside the race course and other bodies.
“As a sport we have for years shown great determination and commitment to improve welfare standards by taking measured scientific, evidence-based, regulatory and education-based steps.”
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