January 21, 2009 / 1:14 PM / 9 years ago

Animal rights activists jailed for blackmail

LONDON (Reuters) - Seven British animal rights activists who blackmailed companies across Europe that supplied medical research firm Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) received jail terms of up to 11 years on Wednesday.

An animal rights demonstrator in skull mask in Central Cambridge during a protest calling for the closure of Huntingdon Life Sciences Laboratory July 27, 2002. REUTERS/Peter Macdiarmid

The group were involved in a six-year campaign from 2001 to target firms linked with the animal research laboratory based near Cambridge.

Members of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) group threatened managers and staff during what the judge called a campaign of “urban terrorism” that made their victims’ lives “a living hell,” the Press Association reported.

The leaders of the conspiracy were Gregg Avery, his wife Natasha and Heather Nicholson, assisted by computer expert Gavin Medd-Hall, who researched the victims, and “foot soldiers” Gerrah Selby, Daniel Wadham and Daniel Amos.

Nicholson, 41, who was convicted of conspiracy to blackmail at a trial last year, was jailed for 11 years while Gregg Avery, 41, and his 39-year-old wife received nine years because they pleaded guilty to the charge.

Medd-Hall, 45, Wadham, 20, and Selby, 21, who were all found guilty at last year’s trial, were jailed for eight, five and four years respectively. Amos, 22, who admitted the charge, was given four years.

SHAC targeted firms and staff in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Many of the conspirators travelled to the continent to protest.

About 40 firms were victimised, with the damage and increased security costing a total of 12.6 million pounds, Winchester Crown Court was told.

The campaign used tactics such as false allegations of paedophilia against managers of supplier companies, hoax parcel bombs, criminal damage and threatening phone calls to force them to cut links with HLS, the court heard.

Another tactic was to send used sanitary towels or needles in the mail, saying they were contaminated with the AIDS virus. Some employees of firms linked to HLS had slogans such as “puppy killer” and “scum” daubed with paint on their homes.

The judge, Justice Butterfield, said he accepted that the seven had genuine deeply held beliefs and had the right to protest against animal research. But he added companies “had the right to conduct vital biomedical research.”

“It was a relentless, sustained campaign designed to strike such fear in the minds of employees that the companies would capitulate,” Butterfield said.

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

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison

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