Twelve photos from Oxfordshire in 1998, the year protesters besieged a cat farm

It was the year ex-drug dealer Howard Marks was invited to give a talk at the Oxford Union, Wantage activists marched to protect hospital services and animal rights protesters laid siege to the farm feline from Hillgrove near Witney.

Oxford Mail:

At the height of the campaign, hundreds of protesters poured into the area.

Read again: Stunning images capture thunderstorm over Oxford

In 1998, around 700 protesters gathered at Minster Lovell Farm outside the perimeter metal fences where they were confronted by police.

Young people in balaclavas mixed with women and children on the long journey to the farm.

The protest was mostly peaceful, with some clashes between police, some mounted on horseback and others with riot shields, outside the home of farmer Christopher Brown.

Some protesters threw stones at police, but the incident was short-lived.

As activists thronged the field, the biggest draw was an elderly clergyman in long white robes holding a sign saying Christians stand against all animal abuse.

He spoke out against the cat farm and was later rewarded with three cheers.

The Reverend James Thompson, 68, a retired rector, said at the time: “I think the church that claims to be the moral mouthpiece of the nation should take a stand against cruelty.

Oxford Mail:

“It’s comparable to what the slave trade was like a few hundred years ago. It’s our duty as Christians to protect life.”

Read more: Nine photos of Oxfordshire in 1992

Another protester, Sally Higgs, 33, from Faringdon, said: “I have ME and struggling here is absolutely killing me, but it’s worth it.

“I think it’s awful that this trade has continued with all the public opinion against it.

“I don’t agree with the violence but because of what Christopher Brown is doing, I don’t feel sorry for him.”

Thames Valley Police Deputy Chief Constable Tim Davidson said in 1998: ‘A substantial police presence and early arrests of suspected offenders halted further scenes of violence, as was evident during the last demonstration on April 18. There were no injuries.”

At the time, the cost of protecting Hillgrove Farm had cost over £600,000.

Protest organizer Greg Jennings, from the Save the Hillgrove Cats campaign, said: ‘Animals are being produced here for cruel and unnecessary experimentation. We will be back until we have seen Hillgrove Farm closed.’

Read again: Bailey Bridge in Port Meadow needs upgrading

The farm was established 30 years earlier to breed cats for medical research. About 1,000 kittens and their mothers were kept in germ-free conditions before being sold to labs.

Owner Mr Brown said at the time: “These people want to stop animal testing, but they’re behaving like a mob.

“They should be making reasoned arguments rather than staging protests at great expense to the public.

Oxford Mail:

Our animals are kept in A1 condition – protesters have no reason to be here.”

Over the years there have been clashes with the police, 350 people have been arrested and 21 imprisoned.

The police bill was around £5million before the farm closed in 1999.

This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team over 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Contact him by email: [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF