In February, animal rights activists in Great Britain and the United States held protests to remember the 10th anniversary of the death of Jill Phipps. Phipps was an animal rights activist killed in 1995 at an anti-veal protest in Great Britain.
Of course there was a lot of nonsense about exactly how Phipps died. For example, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty claimed that (emphasis added),
Ten years ago Jill Phipps was murdered. She was a passionate British animal rights activist who literally stood her ground when defending animals from terror and death. She was killed during a demonstration against the cruel live export of ‘veal’ calves at Coventry Airport. She stood defiantly in front of a crowded animal cargo truck, as she had so many times to stop it from making its fateful delivery. This time the truck chose not to stop. She was crushed under its wheels.
In fact, Phipps death was ruled accidental at an inquest that investigated her death and the person primarily responsible for Phipps’ death was Phipps herself.
To be clear, police had cordoned off the area where the trucks were transporting the veal calves. Phipps and other activists, however, evaded police and attempted to block the passage of the trucks. Some of the activists attempted to attach themselves to the trucks with handcuffs while others, such as Phipps, got in front of the trucks in an effort to make them stop.
Due to the confusing set of events that occurred shortly before her death, in fact, the driver of the truck, Stephen Yates, never saw Phipps and didn’t realize he had run her over until a police officer banged on the door of the truck’s cab and asked him to stop the vehicle.
Yates noted that police had not given him any special instructions on how to handle protesters who might jump in front of the truck or might try to climb onto the cab. According to a Guardian account of Yates 1995 testimony at the inquest,
Mr. Yates told police he noticed a woman, probably Ms. Phipps’s friend, Pamela Brown, run to the driver’s side and try to chain herself to the lorry before officers dragged her away.
Inspector Williams said Mr. Yates continued: “There were two, maybe three or four protesters running down the grass verge towards the front of the lorry. I had kept my eye on her.
“Then there was bang on the passenger door. An officer said: ‘Stop, stop. There’s someone under your wheels.’ At the time I didn’t know if it was the back or front wheels. I said ‘What’s wrong?’ and he said ‘Just back your truck — a couple of inches.’ I did.
“Someone told me I’d just run somebody over. I said: ‘You’re joking.’ The officer came around the side to me. I asked: ‘I’ve gone right over the top of her?’ and he said ‘Yes.’ I said ‘Bloody hell, that’s bad. I can’t believe it’.”
He added: “The only person I saw was the girl. I wasn’t doing more than five or six miles per hour – 10 at the most. I don’t think anyone expected the protesters to act the way they did.”
After hearing all the evidence in the case, a 10-person jury at the inquest found that Phipps’ death was accidental. As assistant chief constable Mike Brewer said of the verdict and Phipps’ death,
We didn’t have the benefit of hindsight but it was a good operation. At the time it was well planned and well carried out. The police were not responsible for Jill’s death; regrettably that lies with Jill and her friends. I think Jill Phipps died because she was engaged in an endeavor which was dangerous. The times we are talking about were just literally a matter of four, five, six seconds, between when she was safe and when she was under the lorry. “Jill made a miscalculation and could not get out of the way. Jill and her colleagues had broken the law and put themselves in great danger.
Woman’s Veal Protest Death ‘was An Accident’. Rory McCarthy and Eileen Murphy, Press Association News, August 22, 1995.
Driver did not know he had killed woman. Alex Bellos, The Guardian, August 19, 1995.
Animal rights protesters to mark activists’s death. Phil Hazlewood, Press Association, February 5, 2005.
In Memory of Jill Phipps. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, February 2005.
March to honour animal campaigner. The BBC, February 5, 2005