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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Protest 'link' to desecrated grave
Grave scene
Diocesan officials have described the damage as beyond vandalism
The grave of an 82-year-old woman whose family has been the target of animal rights protesters has been desecrated.

The damage to Gladys Hammond's burial plot was discovered on Thursday at St Peter's Church, Yoxall, Staffordshire. Her remains had been dug up.

Her family's connection to a farm where guinea pigs are bred for research has led to a campaign against them.

Police said they were investigating possible links to groups opposed to activities at the farm in Newchurch.

Mrs Hammond's family has been the target of protests in recent years because of their connection with the Darley Oaks Farm.

A line has been crossed in civilised society
Venerable Chris Liley
Archdeacon of Lichfield
Det Chief Insp Nick Baker told reporters at the scene that they were keeping an open mind about the motive.

"It is above any issue of protest or cause. This is sick and depraved. We should just focus on that."

Asked about possible links to animal rights protests, he added: "It is one of the lines of inquiry we are looking into.

"Gladys Hammond was a relative of the Hall family who have been the subject of protests and intimidation by animal rights protesters."

'Worst hypocrites'

The officer refused to elaborate on the extent of the damage to the grave but described it as a "very sensitive issue" which had distressed Mrs Hammond's family.

Diocesan officials said the damage went "way beyond" petty vandalism. The site has been cordoned off while forensic teams carry out an investigation.

Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant said this was the latest in a long series of attacks by "so-called animal rights activists" on owners, workers, relatives and friends of people associated with Darley Oaks Farm.

Darley Oaks Farm
Protesters are opposed to guinea pig breeding at Darley Oaks Farm
He told the House of Commons in January about a letter he had received from the Hall family detailing attacks on relatives, which included the smashing of every downstairs window at an 86-year-old male relative's home.

"This is the culmination of a whole series of incidents affecting the Hall family and local villagers," Mr Fabricant said on Friday.

"I just hope now that someone will have the decency to shop the perpetrators of this despicable crime to the police. These people are hypocrites of the worst kind."

He said that he had spoken to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire and said that the Home Secretary had been informed about the incident.

The Rev Jenny Lister, the vicar at St Peter's who first reported the matter to police, said Mrs Hammond's family were "devastated".

They are being supported by specialist family liaison police officers.

The Archdeacon of Lichfield, the Venerable Chris Liley, said those responsible had "violated" a place of peace, adding: "Once that begins to happen, a line has been crossed in civilised society."


SEE ALSO:
Villagers targeted in four-year campaign
08 Oct 04  |  Staffordshire
Activists blamed for firework attack
14 Nov 03  |  Staffordshire
Activists blamed for child sex slur
07 Oct 03  |  Staffordshire


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