EXCLUSIVE: EDWINA Beveridge says her family’s privacy and business have been violated after they discovered elaborate video surveillance equipment they believe was planted by animal rights activists at their piggery, Blantyre Farms, near Young, in south-east NSW.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media exclusively yesterday, Ms Beveridge said her family’s pig producing business has suffered three separate trespass incidents in late April and May, “that we know of”.
In a detailed report submitted to police and seen by Fairfax Agricultural Media, the farm’s management team claimed the sophisticated equipment was installed in the false ceiling of a farrowing house no earlier than May 3.
On May 6, a staff member climbed onto the false ceiling and noticed strange wiring and a hessian bag, and on further inspection discovered a recording device and small cameras wired together.
Six small cameras comparable in size to small dice were found protruding through ceiling vents into the farrowing house, focused on sows and piglets.
Ms Beveridge said she believed the cameras were planted with the aim of collecting images for use in media campaigns designed to undermine intensive farming systems.
She said the video footage could also potentially inflict reputational damage on the piggery, through misleading information and emotive images used out of context.
After the discovery, equipment was left in position, Young police were notified and a counter-surveillance operation was initiated.
Video footage taken from the surveillance equipment indicated it first started recording on May 5, “in the middle of the night”.
As there was no modem attached to the equipment, the managers realised the offenders had to return to the farm to retrieve the video footage. The activists returned on May 12 at about 12.50am, but were disrupted in the process of breaking in. Ms Beveridge called the police and they responded immediately.
A contingent of about eight volunteers from the piggery’s team of 30 staff searched for the intruders over about four hours, but failed to locate anyone.
Ms Beveridge said a vehicle that was parked near the farm house about one kilometre from the piggery was left abandoned. The police report alleges that two separate witnesses saw a small black car parked in a similar position on April 17, about midnight.
Ms Beveridge alleged an identification card was found in the vehicle which could link Animals Australia to the incident, through a membership number.
However, Inspector Ashley Holmes of Young Police Station said two individuals questioned over the incident had claimed to be from Animal Liberation, not Animals Australia.
Animal Liberation spokesperson Lynda Stoner confirmed that two of the group's members were involved in an incident at Blantyre Farms on May 12.
“Two activists who had been investigating the plight of pigs witnessed spotlights from a group of people at the farm who were approaching them,” she said.
“The activists tried to leave in their vehicle but discovered a window had been smashed and the valves of all four tyres had been cut, and items in the vehicle had also been rifled through.
“The activists felt they were in a potentially perilous situation, they were picked up by a friend in another car and pursued by people from the farm in a vehicle.
“The activists reported the incident to the police.
“Animal Liberation is not aware of cameras being placed in the piggery.”
Inspector Holmes said the incident was still under investigation but it’s unlikely any charges will be now laid.
“We have a great deal of suspicion but the necessary proof to lay charges and prove a case in court is lacking at this time,” he said.
He said this type of criminal trespass generated greater hazards due to the high risks associated with strict access rules and regulations around quarantine and biosecurity.
Ms Beveridge said en route to the piggery from where the car was parked, the intruders would passed five fences and multiple signs saying ‘Private Property’, ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Quarantine Area - Authorised Access Only’.
She said the bungled farm raid failed to retrieve any video footage from the equipment, which is estimated to cost about $5000.
Ms Beveridge stressed animal welfare standards were of “paramount importance” on the modern 2200-head sow operation, where up to 25,000 pigs could be housed at any one time at the breeder or grower locations.
Edwina and her husband Michael have spent millions upgrading the facility since taking over from her parents in 2007 – including building new sheds, and renovating old ones and removing sow stalls.
“It’s a sackable offence to mistreat pigs here; that’s how seriously we take animal welfare,” she said.
Ms Beveridge said the repeated trespass by activists under the cover of darkness had clearly impacted her family and staff.
“We feel violated - it has unsettled our pigs and it has unsettled all of our family. This experience has caused great upset and distress to us and our staff.”
Ms Beveridge said she was disappointed the investigation had deemed there was insufficient evidence to press any charges. On-farm security measures have now been increased, and she sent a warning to other farmers saying they needed to be increasingly vigilant.
“They must be deranged and feel like they’re vigilantes but they don’t see that they’re interrupting and affecting our lives,” she said.
“I think city people are getting so far removed from the farm they just don’t see the reality of it all.”