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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Relative's plea over grave theft
Gladys Hammond
Gladys Hammond was described as a "kind and gentle" woman
The relative of an elderly woman whose remains were stolen by animal rights extremists has spoken for the first time to appeal for their return.

Gladys Hammond, 82, was related to the owners of a farm in Newchurch which bred guinea pigs for medical research.

Her remains were taken from her grave at St Peter's Church in nearby Yoxall in Staffordshire last October.

A close relative has spoken exclusively to the BBC's Inside Out West Midlands programme about her anguish.

The woman, whose identity has been disguised because of her fear of reprisals from animal rights extremists, described the people who carried out the theft as "despicable".

It is just unbelievable that she is lying somewhere not where she should be, in her coffin in St Peter's churchyard
Mrs Hammond's relative

"They are evil," she said.

"I can't imagine anyone opening a coffin. I can't imagine what sort of person would do that - whatever their cause. They just don't care obviously."

She described Mrs Hammond as a "kind and gentle lady" who loved animals.

"She loved her family and would do anything for them. If they needed help, she was always there.

"I used to visit her grave, that was one of the things I did. I used to get pleasure out of making sure her grave had flowers.

"She loved wild flowers and this year I thought, there is nowhere to take the bluebells to. She loved bluebells.

"It is just unbelievable that she is lying somewhere not where she should be, in her coffin in St Peter's churchyard."

'Sinister campaign'

Mrs Hammond was related to the Hall family who own Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch. The farm has been targeted by animal rights protestors since it began breeding guinea pigs for medical research six years ago.

Last month, the Hall family announced they were giving up the business and returning to traditional farming in the hope that Mrs Hammond's remains would be returned.

Grave scene
Mrs Hammond's remains were stolen from St Peter's churchyard

Although seven people have been arrested in connection with the theft of Mrs Hammond's remains since last October, nobody has yet been charged.

Insp David Bird, of Staffordshire Police's environmental protest unit, said: "There is two sides to this campaign.

"On one hand lawful, peaceful protests have been taking place outside the farm for six years but behind that, there is a sinister campaign of criminal activity.

"Ultimately we will trace the offenders and we will bring them to justice."

Protestor Amanda Richards, from the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs Campaign, said she had no information about who was responsible for taking Mrs Hammond's remains.

"We were totally shocked when we first heard about it," she added.

"We don't even know if it was animal rights people who desecrated the grave."

But Mrs Hammond's relative had a clear message to those responsible.

"Your demands have been met. The Hall's are closing their business so only you aren't sticking to your part of the bargain by returning Gladys," she said.

"Please, please return her. Tell us where she is. She has nothing to do with the Halls. This is for me and my family."

The BBC's Inside Out West Midlands programme can be seen on BBC One on 12 September at 1930 BST.

Church plea over woman's remains
03 Sep 05 |  Staffordshire
Protests go on at guinea pig farm
25 Aug 05 |  Staffordshire
Targeted guinea pig farm closes
23 Aug 05 |  Staffordshire
Timeline: Farm under siege
23 Aug 05 |  Staffordshire

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