Magistrates scathing of vegans causing 'biosecurity risk'
A GROUP of vegan activists who unlawfully entered the grounds of a Darling Downs feedlot has been condemned by two Toowoomba magistrates during separate sentence hearings.
Magistrate Viviana Keegan said the incident was "a serious example of unlawfully entering farming land".
"They were clearly trespassing and they knew they were doing so," she said.
"They not only disrupted the business, but they created a biosecurity risk."
Ms Keegan said the incident had also tied up the limited police resources at Millmerran at a cost to the community.
Ms Keegan was sentencing Margate-based vegan activists Leah Ava Whetton, 29, and Jessie Leigh Simpson-Ross, 26, who each pleaded guilty in writing to a charge of unlawfully entering farming land arising from the March 23 incident.
Neither was present in Toowoomba Magistrates Court for the hearing, and in a letter to the court read aloud in part by Ms Keegan, the couple had complained they had since the incident received threatening phone calls and messages and claimed they had been followed to their home.
Police prosecutor Catherine Steele told the court the couple had been part of a large group of vegan activists who had unlawfully entered the Lemontree feedlot about 8km west of Millmerran on March 23, ignoring the property's strict biosecurity measures.
The group also ignored the feedlot manager's directions to leave the property and walked about for 30 minutes, occasionally stopping to have group photographs taken with Whetten identified in one of the photos.
When later spoken to by police, Whetton had identified herself as being the leader of the group, Ms Steele said.
Police attended the couple's Margate home on April 4 where they found a black flag flying in the driveway similar to that hoisted at the feedlot on March 23, she said.
Both had voluntarily attended Redcliffe Police Station but declined to answer questions, the court heard.
Because the matter was being heard "ex parte", in the absence of the defendants, Ms Keegan said she could not take into account criminal histories or record convictions.
Whetton was being sentenced "as the leader of the protest group", Ms Keegan said.
Without recorded convictions, Ms Keegan fined Whetton $1300 and Simpson-Ross $1000.
Meanwhile, in the Magistrates Court next door, fellow vegan activists Andrew Liam David, 22, and Skye Lea-Anne Hapke, 25, both of Brisbane, pleaded guilty to one count each of trespass - entering or remaining in a yard or place for business, arising from the same incident.
The pair's solicitor Jag MacDonald told the court his clients instructed the group had received information that live exporting of animals was being carried out at the feedlot.
However, Mr MacDonald conceded that his clients had made no effort to find out if animal cruelty was taking place before going to the property.
Magistrate Damian Carroll said the penalty imposed would include "public denouncement" of the behaviour of the activists who had acted unlawfully.
"This incident obviously raises serious biosecurity issues," he told the pair.
Mr Carroll noted Hapke had been fined for a similar offence just five days prior to the Millmerran incident.
He fined Hapke $750 and David $500 but ordered their respective convictions not be recorded.
A FIFTH member of the vegan activist group to appear before Toowoomba Magistrates Court on a charge of trespass - entering or remaining in a yard or place for business, had her case adjourned for mention back in the same court on June 6.