Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Animal activists' climate of fear

By Nigel Pankhurst
BBC News

Damaged car
The activists' tactics included damaging homes and other property

A group of animal rights activists waged a six-year blackmail campaign with the aim of shutting down Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).

But their targets were not the Cambridgeshire-based animal research laboratory itself - instead they created a climate of fear among businesses that had links with HLS.

Tactics used by members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) between 2001 and 2007 included falsely accusing company directors of being paedophiles,

They also posted used sanitary towels and hoax bomb parcels, caused criminal damage to homes and other property, and made threatening telephone calls.

One of the victims, a man whose company transports animals for Huntingdon Life Sciences, told BBC News he still feared reprisals.

He said: "We received a lot of letters, a lot of phone calls, and the letters contained things like used condoms, used sanitary towels, razor blades, syringe needles claiming to be from people who are infected with Aids."

False claims

Vincent Howard, of Biocair in Cambridge, told Winchester Crown Court that he was accused of being a convicted paedophile and was sent a hoax bomb.

He said letters were circulated in the village where he lived in Cambridgeshire making the false accusation.

"I was very lucky.

"I work long hours and I didn't have that many connections with the village," he told the court.

"Whereas my partner was well connected with the schools and well known in the village, which helped a lot because she was able to contact the schools and say these letters were completely bogus."

Graffiti on road
Graffiti was daubed near the homes of those targeted by the activists

The same tactics were used on William Denison, managing director of F2 Chemicals, and there were more false paedophile claims against Novartis employee Keith Goodchild.

Margaret McQuillan, a PA at a company called Astellas, had her house and car daubed with paint saying ALF [Animal Liberation Front] and "puppy killer".

Scientist Christopher Bevan, of GlaxoSmithKline, suffered similar treatment.

Company manager Stephen Lightfoot was sent a letter with the threat that he would be stabbed with an HIV-infected needle.

The victims were told the blackmail would stop only when they issued a "capitulation statement" saying they would no longer deal with HLS.

The campaign came to an end when 700 police officers raided addresses in the UK, Netherlands and Belgium in May 2007.

Headquarters bugged

Shac was set up in 1999 by Heather Nicholson with her former husband Gregg Avery and his new wife Natasha Avery.

Daniel Amos was also charged with conspiracy to blackmail, along with Trevor Holmes, Gavin Medd-Hall, Daniel Wadham and Gerrah Selby.

Police who bugged Shac's Hampshire headquarters said they identified clear links between the group's activities and other organisations in Europe and the US.

At a complex three-month trial Selby, Wadham, Medd-Hall and Nicholson were found guilty.

Mr Holmes was cleared of the charge. Earlier, Gregg and Natasha Avery and Amos had pleaded guilty.

The jury reached its verdicts after more than 33 hours of deliberations.

Det Ch Insp Andy Robbins, of Kent Police, who led the investigation, said: "We're very satisfied with the outcome of this prosecution.

"This conspiracy to blackmail involved the systematic and relentless intimidation of individuals and their companies whom the defendants suspected of being involved with Huntingdon Life Sciences.

"This conspiracy ran for six years.

"There was a whole group of tactics that were used by Shac.

"I'd like to pay tribute to the many victims who have had to carry on their lawful business while living through this criminal campaign, some over many years."

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08 Oct 08 |  England

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