Police have arrested three suspected animal rights activists ahead of a major greyhound race which an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion has vowed to disrupt.
Northamptonshire Police arrested two men, aged 41 and 26, and a 33-year-old woman “as part of a public safety operation” ahead of the Greyhound Derby final at Towcester Racecourse in Northamptonshire on Saturday night.
The activist group Animal Rising claimed the arrested trio were its “peaceful supporters trying to protect dogs”, and pledged to “proceed with our intentions to disrupt the Greyhound Derby final”.
Towcester Racecourse managing director Kevin Boothby has condemned “Animal Rising’s very public plans to disrupt” the final, saying: “Their unlawful and reckless intentions for Saturday night have already come at a significant cost to our operation.”
Organisers have called it “the world’s greatest greyhound race”, adding that since May 25 192 greyhounds have competed “to make it to the final, win the whopping £175,000 prize and call themselves English Greyhound Derby Champion!”
Northamptonshire Police said the arrests were made after it executed warrants during an out of county operation supported the Metropolitan Police, ahead of the final which is expected to attract several thousand visitors.
The force said it is “mounting a significant policing operation for the event, the biggest in the greyhound racing calendar, following threats in recent weeks from Animal Rising activists who have warned they plan to disrupt it”.
Chief Inspector Pete Basham, who is leading the operation, said: “We have conducted warrants outside Northamptonshire as part of a wider operation to stop those intent on disrupting sporting events.
“Today we will be facilitating people’s rights to lawfully protest, but I want to send a message to anyone considering disrupting today’s event that we will deal with them robustly if they step outside the law and affect the enjoyment of spectators coming to attend the races.”
Animal Rising posted a video on social media on Friday of one a man in handcuffs being put into the back of a police van.
It said: “Three supporters of Animal Rising were arrested in house raids the afternoon before the Greyhound Derby final.
“This comes before supporters of Animal Rising even got within distance of Towcester Racecourse.
“Those arrested by the police were peaceful supporters who were trying to protect dogs.
“The increase in the suppression of dissent and peaceful protest is a threat to our democracy, and every day we see our democracy withering more and more.
“Despite these challenges, we will proceed with our intentions to disrupt the Greyhound Derby final tomorrow.
“The police have tried to stop us from protecting these greyhounds, but we will continue to put our bodies on the line to protect animals, and advocate for a better future for all life.”
Mr Boothby issued an open message to race-goers urging them to be patient amid extra security checks due to the threat of disruption by Animal Rising.
He said “tens of thousands of pounds have been invested in additional security measures” because of Animal Rising.
He said organisers met with Animal Rising ahead of the final “so they could communicate their plans for the evening while we had a platform to reiterate our core concerns”.
The group has “made it clear under no circumstances would any of its members trespass onto the track in the process of a race taking place” but “we are expecting attempts to disrupt racing outside of the mentioned timeframe”, he added.
He urged attendees not to help police and security to remove any protesters, telling them to resist “temptations to be lured into conflict”.
“Our meeting with Animal Rising only confirmed to us their existence is dependent on media attention that is secured by acting in a manner that is not only unlawful, but also incredibly reckless and ill-considered,” he added.
“Animal Rising is using greyhound racing as a soft target in a far wider campaign where everyone is required to live a plant-based lifestyle and no activities that expose animals to risk of harm are permitted.”