An award-winning veterinary nurse who supported an animal liberation movement was sacked after a police raid found she was keeping a rescued turkey in her flat, an employment tribunal heard. ‘Ethical vegan’ Shakira Free Miles had rescued the ‘unwell’ bird, called Dorothy, and had taken it to hospital two days after Christmas Day as it could not stand, the hearing was told.
But the turkey was discovered by officers in the university-provided home she lived in when she was being investigated for potential involvement in activist group the Animal Liberation Front. At the time, Ms Free Miles was working for the Royal Veterinary College [RVC], which was alerted to her arrest and consequently investigated her.
The prestigious veterinary university then found social media posts where Ms Free Miles was seen holding a piglet in Barcelona under the heading ‘Meat the Victims – One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws’. Not only this, but it found she had treated a rabbit that had been taken during a raid on a farm and featured in a Channel 4 documentary called ‘How to steal pigs and influence people’, the panel was told.
Ms Free Miles, who describes herself on Facebook as a ‘liberation activist’, was then sacked for gross misconduct after the RVC found she was associated with illegal activities carried out by extreme animal rights groups. What’s more, the university found she had been in breach of its ‘no pet policy’ by keeping Dorothy in her flat.
After her dismissal Ms Free Miles attempted to sue claiming she had been discriminated against for her ethical veganism beliefs and that she had been unfairly dismissed. But the panel found that her trespassing and removing animals in a bid to reduce the suffering of animals was not a philosophical belief.
Ms Free Miles, who joined RVC in 2015, was stationed at its Beaumont Sainsbury Animal Hospital in Camden, London, and in 2016, she was named Veterinary Nurse of the Year out of 400 nominations at the Ceva Awards for Animal Welfare. At the time of the incident in 2019, she lived in a flat owned by the university.
The tribunal was told Ms Free Miles would not allow meat or animal products to be put in the fridge she used and had been involved in campaigns relating to certain breeds of dogs being identified as dangerous. The hearing, held in central London, was told: “She believes animals’ lives have innate value and that humans should not eat, wear, use for sport, experiment on or profit from animals and that humans have a moral obligation to take positive action to prevent or reduce the suffering of animals.
“She said in evidence that that included trespass on private property to expose the suffering of animals and the removal of suffering animals. She said she supported disobeying unjust laws if it was done to expose the suffering of animals.”
Despite Ms Free Miles being ‘well aware of’ the no pet policy, in February 2019 the turkey was found in her flat during a raid when police were investigating a ‘number of burglaries’ and thefts suspected to have been conducted by Animal Liberation Front. Ms Free Miles was arrested and Dorothy, the turkey which had ulcerated infections and was unable to stand, was collected by the RSPCA.
After she was released without charge but under investigation, Ms Free Miles was suspended from work. The tribunal was told a veterinary surgeon had examined Dorothy in December 2018, with Ms Free Miles saying she had rescued it and it was under her temporary care.
The panel was told: “She knew that she was not allowed to have animals in her flat but had felt she had to do something as otherwise the turkey would have died.”
Her Instagram and Twitter accounts revealed Ms Free Miles’ opinions were ‘on the more militant’ end of the animal rights movement, with her attending farm incursions in the UK and abroad with the group Meat the Victims, the panel heard. When interviewed, Ms Free Miles said she was not a member of any animal liberation or pressure groups, arguing there was a distinction between protests and illegal activities.
But the university was then told Ms Free Miles had been linked to animal stealing, with the Suffolk Counter Terrorism Policing Unit believing she had treated stolen pigs, the tribunal was told. The panel heard Ms Free Miles had been charged with criminal offences of conspiracy in connection with animal rights activities in Suffolk and was facing a Crown Court trial.
It was also discovered that on her globalanimnalnetwork.org profile she described herself as an expert in fields where she was not and called herself a ‘veterinarian’, suggesting she was a surgeon, the tribunal heard. In June 2020, she was sacked for misconduct for breaching the no pets policy by keeping the turkey and for gross misconduct for posting pictures of people’s pets on social media without permission and for her involvement in Meat the Victims which ‘openly endorsed breaking the law’.
She then went to the employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal, direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination and breach of contract. Dismissing her claims, Employment Judge Harjit Grewal concluded: “[Her] belief that she was morally obliged to take positive action to prevent or reduce the suffering of animals, which included trespass and removal of animals and its manifestation was not a philosophical belief.”