October 25, 2010 / 11:40 AM / 9 years ago

Animal rights activists jailed for harassing firms

LONDON (Reuters) - Five animal rights activists who took part in a campaign to intimidate firms across Europe that supplied a medical research company were jailed on Monday.

The group had targeted about 40 firms as part of an international conspiracy to force the closure of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), an animal research laboratory based near Cambridge. The members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) posted hoax parcel bombs to staff and offices, carried out criminal damage, threatened violence and made abusive phone calls, Winchester Crown Court was told.

The campaign also used tactics such as false allegations of paedophilia against managers of the supply companies, and posting sanitary towels to their homes saying the blood was contaminated with the AIDS virus.

Some employees from firms in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland had “puppy killer” and “scum” daubed on their houses.

The cost of the damage and increased security measures amounted to 12.6 million pounds, the court heard.

Sarah Whitehead, 53, Nicole Vosper, 22, and Thomas Harris, 27, admitted conspiracy to blackmail companies and suppliers linked to HLS between 2001 and 2008, the Press Association reported.

Jason Mullan, 32, Nicola Tapping, 29 and Alfie Fitzpatrick, 21, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harm HLS.

All received jail terms of between 15 months and six years except Fitzpatrick who was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and ordered to do community work.

Last year, seven other members of SHAC, including its three leaders, were jailed for their role in the six-year campaign which started in 2001.

“The action was taken in order to distress and terrify, and in that you were successful,” said judge Keith Cutler, adding the lawful actions of SHAC were a “thin veneer” for their campaign of intimidation.

“I expect you will be seen by some as martyrs for a noble cause but that would be wholly misplaced. You are not going to prison for expressing your beliefs, you are going to prison because you have committed a serious criminal offence.”

Police said the sentences were fitting for the group’s actions.

“Such tactics have no place in a democratic society and in no way reflect the peaceful protests carried out by the vast majority of legitimate animal welfare campaigners,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison

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