Inside the Great Leicestershire Pig Heist
We spoke to animal rights activist Wesley Omar, who this week was handed a 12-month community order for stealing a pig.
Screen shots: Wesley Omar / YouTube
Wesley Omar's case had all the makings of a great heist story. Captives locked away in dank, dirty conditions; a break-in, a getaway vehicle and a man hunt. Except, back in July of 2017, this 23-year-old wasn't rescuing hostages from a terrorist cell; he was nicking a pig from a farm in rural Leicestershire.
This week, Omar was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 100 hours of unpaid work at Leicester Crown Court, with the judge telling him he had behaved in an "extremely childish" manner. Omar, however, sees it differently. For him, this pig-napping was a noble act – one that has saved young Wilbur the pig's life. For Omar, losing his job and finding himself with a criminal record was a worthwhile price to pay.
"I've rescued animals in the past, but usually anonymously," Omar tells me from his home in Rutland, "but that really wasn't the plan this time." A committed vegan and animal rights activist, there are a handful of chickens and lambs living full and prosperous lives across the Midlands thanks to Omar's antics. "If I hadn't taken them they'd have all ended up in the same places – getting a knife across their throat and ending up on someone’s plate."
Having gone incognito in the past on his one-man missions, Omar says he realised that putting himself out there online and giving a face to his actions seemed like the obvious next step in drawing our attention to what he sees as one of the world's greatest injustices: the mass slaughter of animals to fulfil our appetites for sausages, bacon and other meaty treats.
"I don't think chickens should drive cars or anything like that," Omar assures me, "but it's about respecting their right to live like you and I – to exist without unnecessary pain and suffering."
Omar had spent a few days scoping out the security at Belmont Farm before he breached the perimeter, and as the video he uploaded to Facebook (which subsequently went viral, leading to his arrest and conviction) shows, Omar was visibly pained by what he saw. "There were thousands of pigs, and the stench is horrible," he explains. "The pigs are on top of each other, covered in their own shit."
According to the Melton Times, back in 2011 Belmont Farms were fined close to £27,000 for the "very poor medical care" provided to injured pigs at one of their locations.
After half an hour of exploration on the pig farm, Omar apologises to the pigs for what humanity has done to them. And then, in an entirely unplanned act of heroism (or childishness, if you ask the Crown Court judge), Omar grabs the pig closest to him from its pen and carries it to freedom.
"I've just gone and rescued one – I could not leave someone there," he says to his camera, breathing heavily while he sits in a field and collects his thoughts. "I couldn't get all of them, but I knew I could rescue one. One beautiful, beautiful individual."
Wilbur the pig had never seen the light of day before, Omar tells me, having been kept in captivity his whole life, so at first this little piggy was confused. "I sat with him for 20 minutes or so to calm him down," Omar explains. "Then, when I started walking, he followed me. We built up this trust so easily, and we made the journey across the field to where I'd parked my car."
With Wilbur riding shotgun, Omar whacked on the radio in the hope of calming his new companion down. The Elvis classic "I Just Can't Help Believing" came out of the speakers, and in an emotional car ride together Omar and Wilbur made their getaway, heading to an animal sanctuary where pigs aren't food, but friends. If it wasn't for his decision a month later to upload the incriminating footage, Omar may well have gotten away with it.
Views quickly racked up on the video, and soon the national press had picked up the story. "ACTIVIST SAVES PIGLET'S BACON" read The Sun's headline, and it wasn't long, says Omar, before the British Pig Association began trying to track him down.
"The police came round to arrest me and they took me to the station," he says. "I was surprised it even went to court in the first place. One of the officers could see my intentions were pure – they'd never come across something like this before. It's such a petty thing to take someone to court, but they've done us a favour by doing so, given how much attention the cause has had."
After a lengthy legal process, Omar pleaded guilty to theft. "You are not entitled to commit criminal acts in the form of protest," Judge Nicholas Dean told Omar. "I accept you were doing it for a cause you believe in, but to act unlawfully for a cause is a criminal offence."
"I'll definitely continue to save lives where I can," says Omar now. "Although I might not publicise breaking the law anytime soon... I won't be deterred from saving animals, though. Just because it's the law, it doesn't make it moral. Look through history – slavery was legal once. I will look to my own morality rather than the law if there's a human or animal life at stake, but I might not be putting footage of me breaking the law online anytime soon."
Omar is set to study Psychology from September – and as for Wilbur? Despite being tracked down, fears over contamination mean he can never return to Belmont Farm, so he's now living a happy and healthy life at a secret location, his bacon well and truly saved.